Hello. Thank you, Major Boncich, for that introduction.
The Major is a 13-year veteran of the United States Army -- and he's doing great work as a military fellow here at DOL.
Let's give a round of applause to our entire VETS team -- and their leader, Junior Ortiz -- for their efforts on behalf of America's veterans.
My friends, welcome to the Department of Labor's 2012 Salute to Veterans. And I know I'm a couple of days late, but happy Veterans Day, too.
We're so proud to honor those who've served their country -- our active duty personnel, our reservists, members of the Guard, and our veterans.
Thank you for your service.
Today, we're going to hear from a distinguished panel of veterans who are continuing to do incredible things for their country as civilians. I met with them this morning, and their dedication to their country is so inspiring. We're going to have a great discussion today about the unique skills that our veterans bring to the American workforce.
We ask so much of our military personnel. We ask them to put their careers on hold. We ask them to leave their loved ones behind. And we ask them to embark on dangerous missions across the world. The heroes who fight to protect our freedoms abroad shouldn't have to fight for jobs when they come home.
I've said it before, but it bears repeating: The best way America can honor our veterans is to employ them.
Here at DOL, our commitment to veterans hiring begins at home. We currently employ more than 3,000 veterans -- including more than 400 in managerial positions. They're some of the most incredible people I know. Will all of our veterans please stand and be recognized?
And if you're a military spouse, or the parent of a vet, or the child of a vet please stand. You served, too!
Thank you all for your service. We're lucky to have you on our side.
On a personal level, my career in public service has been shaped by the incredible sacrifices of our service members. As a young girl, some of my earliest memories were of young men from my Los Angeles neighborhood leaving for Vietnam. Some of them never made it home. Losing neighbors and friends had a profound impact on me. I learned at a young age how war changes lives. I learned what sacrifice is all about. And I learned that we owe a profound debt of gratitude to the families of the fallen.
As a public official, I try to honor their contributions in every way I know how. I count myself blessed to work for a commander-in-chief who's passionate about doing more for our veterans and military families.
Here at DOL, we strive to honor their contributions by helping our veterans find good-paying jobs. President Obama has laid down a challenge to the federal government and private companies to put our veterans to work.
And today, I have some good news to report.
Last month, the unemployment rate for our veterans fell to 6.3 percent -- well below the national average. In the last 12 months, the unemployment rate for our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans has dropped by more than two percentage points.
So let's show our appreciation to everyone in this room who has worked so hard on veterans hiring initiatives.
There's still more to do, but we're making a real difference.
We're proud of our programs to help our vets find good-paying civilian careers.
We've partnered with the Chamber of Commerce through our "Hiring Our Heroes" initiative. We've hosted more than 330 hiring fairs in 49 states. These fairs already have helped more than 10,000 veterans and their spouses find jobs.
Through our Jobs for Veterans state grant program, we've funded 2,000 veterans employment specialists in communities across the country. They reach out to local businesses every day to make the case for hiring vets.
And they have a great case to make. Our veterans are dependable, hardworking and loyal.
Teamwork and commitment to the mission are hard-wired into their DNA. They've received world-class training from one of the most demanding organizations in the world.
And they've been tested in pressure-cooker situations that few of us can imagine.
That's why the mission of our Veterans Employment Training Service is so critical.
Think about it: As a nation, we spend between eight to 12 weeks to prepare civilians to become members of the military. Through boot camp and pre-deployment training, we prepare them to be outstanding soldiers, sailors and airmen. We owe it to them to work just as hard to prepare them for the transition back to civilian life once their service is over.
Over the next five years, VETS will prepare more than one million transitioning service members for civilian jobs through our TAP workshop. We're helping them with job search strategies and resume writing. And we're showing them how to translate their military skills in civilian job interviews. We're working with employers, too. We're helping them recruit veterans and match candidates with open positions
Our VETS team has just completed work on a new toolkit to educate employers about proven strategies to recruit, hire and retain veterans. This is going to be an invaluable guide for hiring managers and HR professionals -- and I want to thank everyone who had a hand in it.
Finally, we're focused on doing more to assist our homeless veterans. This includes many women who are coming home with unique combat-related challenges. On any given night, tens of thousands of vets go to sleep on our streets and under our bridges. But we've made huge progress in reducing the number of homeless vets by ensuring access to housing, clothing, transportation, medical referrals -- and, of course, jobs.
Our Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program helps 16,000 vets a year. Six in 10 find jobs with our assistance, and we're very proud of that.
We're proud of all of our initiatives at DOL to serve our military heroes.
So let me close today with a message to all of our veterans: We're here for you.
Your skills, your experience and your dedication are crucial to America's economic recovery.
And we won't quit until every veteran has made the transition and found a good job.
We owe you nothing less.
God bless our veterans.
God bless our military families.
And God bless the United States of America.