By Rebecca Cooper
A local program is working to eliminate some of the employment challenges facing many veterans when they come home from deployment.
In 2011, the average unemployment rate for veterans was 12 percent, and that number is expected to be even higher this year.
Veterans Institute for Procurement (VIP) was started locally and continues to teach veterans not just how to enter the workforce, but how to run their own companies.
Scott Ryser, the founder and CEO of Frederick-based IT company Yakabod, says his company benefits from hiring veterans.
Ryser says, "They've got a long history of you know working for the team and a lot of the core values that we hold - a focus on excellence, integrity,. Just all of the core values we hold dear."
Wanting more employers to hire veterans, Maryland Congressman Roscoe Bartlett helped pass federal legislation dubbed "Hire our Heroes".
But, it's Veterans Institute for Procurement that is helping veterans not just land jobs, but create them by winning government contracts. The program was started by the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce and is now being used nationally.
"...it's veteran-owned businesses that come together to learn how to do a better job of interfacing with the federal government - primarily the Department of Defense," Bartlett explains.
Chamber officials were shocked to learn that in the middle of the two wars and record defense spending, the U.S. government wasn't meeting its own goals for rewarding government contracts to veteran-owned companies.
Barbara Ashe, with the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce Foundation, says, "We learned that there weren't any programs to help veteran-owned businesses that sell to the federal government.
Corporate sponsors,like Germantown-based AEPLOG pay for the program, so vets can take the training for free.
And it's working.
Navy veteran Dave Guerra's company Puente Technology, LLC now has four federal contracts and 20 employees.
"As veterans, we have great leadership training, we're great team player, we love challenges and we can overcome and adapt to just about any challenge, as long as you give us the opportunity," Guerra asserts.
Chamber officials say it's a win-win, helping veterans while bringing federal money and jobs to Montgomery County.