Mullen Asks Communities to Reach Out to Veterans
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
DETROIT, Aug. 27, 2010 Integrating veterans into society is a challenge not only for the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, but also for the communities where they settle after leaving the military, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday.Video
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told audiences at Detroit’s Economy Club, Detroit’s Regional Chamber and Wayne State University that he wants to connect veterans throughout the nation with their local communities.
“I’m here today to engage local leadership as so many great young men and women who have fought for our country return,” Mullen said in a roundtable discussion with members of Detroit Regional Chamber. “So many of these veterans have futures that I think are very bright, because they’re so capable.”
Mullen was here as part of a three-day “Conversation with the Country” tour across the Midwest to encourage community and business leaders and the academic community to step up to help in honing skills and life experience among military veterans. He met with business and community leaders in Chicago Aug. 25 and is in Cleveland today.
Veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have the potential to make positive impacts for employers and their local communities, Mullen said, and they deserve promising futures. He noted that the veteran unemployment rate in the country is more than 11 percent, compared to about 9.5 percent for other Americans.
“I look to business leaders to see how to take advantage of this great pool of talent,” Mullen said. “These young men and women are extraordinary people who offer a great deal of potential.”
Mullen said that while the public generally is very supportive of those in uniform, many people don’t understand the challenges troops have as they transition out of the military. And it’s difficult to reach out to veterans, he added, when you don’t know where to look.
Colleges and universities are a good place to start, Mullen suggested. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a hit with veterans, he said, and veterans are flocking to institutions of higher learning by the thousands to take advantage to the benefit.
But ultimately, Mullen said, a gap in the transition process is the overarching issue. He explained that too often the military allows troops to leave the service without adequate preparation to integrate into civilian life, while many servicemembers process out of the military focusing simply on getting out. Troops need to have a better understanding of what to expect outside the military, he said.
The Defense Department and VA are working to bolster programs to better prepare troops to become veterans. But in addition to those efforts, he added, local communities also must be plugged in and ready to receive them.
If that happens, Mullen said, the entire nation will benefit, urging the groups to work together to build a model in their communities to help veterans make the transition to civilian life.
Mullen encouraged the groups to brainstorm on ways to mentor veterans who are bringing their skills and experience to their communities. Those ways, he suggested, might include a sort of veteran intern program, but anything that could help veterans make a difference in their communities would be a good idea, he said. And because an approach that would work in one community may not work in another, Mullen added, only the people in any given community can know what will work.
“The execution has to be locally done,” he said. “The business world is a different life than the one [veterans have] been in. You need transition help. You need someone to stay with you until you can fly solo in your new life.”
Mullen emphasized that his effort is not about giving veterans a free ride. Rather, he said, it’s about giving them an opportunity to show employers and their communities what they’re made of.
“This is not about giving somebody a break,” he said. “This is about understanding that there is great potential in these young men and women. If they get in the door, they’ll take care of the rest. I’m not worried about that.”