Joining Forces Director Cites ‘Tremendous’ Progress
By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2011 About 1,500 companies have hired 20,000 veterans and military spouses in the past couple of months, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the Joining Forces campaign, the campaign’s executive director said yesterday.
These companies aim to hire upward of 135,000 veterans and spouses over the next couple of years through actions spurred by the White House’s military-support initiative, Navy Capt. Bradley Cooper told American Forces Press Service.
“This is a story of the extraordinary -- the extraordinary nature of our troops, veterans and our families, and the extraordinary capacity of a great nation to lend a hand and offer support to those who have earned it,” Cooper said.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, launched Joining Forces in April to raise public awareness of military families’ challenges and sacrifices and to call on all sectors of society to support them. Cooper came on board in the summer to head up this initiative.
Since its inception, the campaign has made “dramatic leaps” in military family awareness and support, the captain noted, particularly in its focus areas of employment, education and wellness.
The public awareness dimension gained a boost when some big-name stars signed on to help. Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg each appear in a public service announcement to honor military families’ sacrifices. These PSAs now are rolling into theaters and national networks.
Joining Forces also has teamed with large organizations such as Major League Baseball and NASCAR, Cooper said. MLB recently dedicated Game 1 of the World Series and NASCAR its final race of the year to military families and veterans.
“We’re going to keep doing those types of events,” Cooper said, “engaging with big, national voices and leaders who can help the first lady and Dr. Biden shine a light on the importance of veterans and military families.”
Along with public awareness, the campaign has made tremendous inroads in tackling veteran and spouse employment in recent months, the captain noted.
In about three months, the campaign went from teaming with 100 companies to more than 1,500, and from 1,500 people hired to nearly 20,000.
“There’s been a dramatic leap, particularly in employment, of people willing to step forward and lend a hand,” Cooper said. “And I think you’ll continue to see this trajectory moving very fast in a very positive direction.”
President Barack Obama signed a bill earlier this week that gives tax credits to employers who hire unemployed veterans and veterans with service-connected disabilities.
This initiative will have a big impact, Cooper predicted, citing the International Franchise Association as an example.
"IFA is seizing on the great capacity and potential of 'vets hiring vets' in leveraging their 66,000 veteran-owned small businesses around the country to hire a veteran,” the captain said.
IFA also has committed to hiring 5,000 of the nation’s wounded warriors by 2014, “and not just hire them, but mentor them,” he said, so they can develop into successful managers and facilitate franchise ownership for those who are interested.
“As companies large and small have shown, the private sector has enormous capacity to help our troops, veterans and families,” Cooper said. “The people of this great nation clearly want to help; people want to have impact. Everywhere we’ve turned and with every company we’ve asked to step up, the answer has been ‘yes.’”
The positive response makes sense in light of the talent veterans and military spouses bring to the table, he noted.
“The consistent feedback that we have received is that companies like the type of talent they’re getting,” Cooper said. “These are individuals who at a young age have managed large groups of people and … had to make quick decisions often in the most difficult of circumstances. I think that translates well into any company.”
While some Joining Forces’ efforts bear instant fruit, others are sustained efforts that will foster support for years to come, the captain said.
On Nov. 7, the president unveiled two new Internet-based job- search tools for unemployed veterans: My Next Move for Veterans, where veterans can browse career options and translate their military experience to a civilian application, and the Veterans Job Bank, where veterans can seek jobs posted by companies committed to hiring them.
Companies such as Google and LinkedIn have committed to populating the Veterans Job Bank, Cooper said, and Simply Hired scoured veteran-friendly companies in job portals around the country and deposited more than 500,000 jobs in the job bank.
Fueling these efforts in part is Google, Cooper noted. The company has developed a process that enables literally every company in the United States to electronically tag any job they choose as a veteran commitment. Google’s search engines then collect these postings and populate the job bank. This offers a “constant fueling of jobs,” he said, noting a significant number of the 1,500 companies already are electronically tagging jobs.
“As time moves forward, you’ll see those translate into real people getting real jobs in a more synchronized, manageable way,” he said.
Also aimed at employment, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has sponsored 75 veteran and spouse hiring fairs around the country, with a goal of hosting 100 hiring fairs within a year. The chamber also has committed to hosting 300-400 additional hiring fairs for veterans and military spouses around the country in 2012, the captain said.
In mid-January, the chamber will host its first military-spouse-only hiring fair and career forum here, looking to bring together more than 100 employers and more than 1,000 spouses, Cooper said.
The Defense Department’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership program also is aimed solely at military spouse support. MSEP partners with local, national and international businesses to foster job opportunities.
Since its launch in late June, the partnership has grown from 72 companies to 96, and has led to the hiring of more than 8,000 military spouses, Cooper said. The program’s site -- http://www.msepjobs.com -- lists more than 70,000 jobs for military spouses.
“It’s a really enormous capacity and includes jobs all over the world,” the captain said.
Cooper also noted a recent emergence of virtual hiring fairs, which is an asset to people unable to attend a hiring fair due to distance or who want to see what’s available in other locations.
Milicruit hosted a virtual fair a few weeks ago that included more than 24,000 jobs from nearly 70 employers with more than 30,000 veterans and spouses engaged in the process. “As we go forward, I think we’ll see positive results,” he said.
While employment opportunities have garnered the most attention, the campaign also is making inroads in the area of education, Cooper noted.
When Joining Forces first rolled out, the Military Child Education Coalition and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education committed to working together. They aimed to bring 100 universities around the country on board to develop and implement a curriculum that would give educators around the country knowledge of military child-centric issues. They’re on track to accomplish this goal by 2012, Cooper said.
This Joining Forces effort will have a lasting effect, the captain said, as thousands of teachers enter communities with a greater understanding and appreciation for what military children experience.
Cooper also noted progress in the area of wellness.
Medscape, a web resource for physicians and other health professionals, committed early on to standing up a resource center and curriculum on military family health care for physicians and nurses. The site contains original medical education programs as well as links to government, academic and community resources.
Medscape already has launched seven medical education programs and they will complete three more by the end of the year, Cooper said. These programs, which can be accessed by anyone, address a variety of topics including health care needs of military families, military culture, and screening and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
As of Nov. 21, more than 40,000 doctors and nurses around the country had accessed the portal and site. “It’s been a huge hit,” he said.
Looking forward, Cooper said he’s working closely with 14 associations -- nurses, physicians and psychiatrists -- to see “where we can capture the power of these associations in the world of behavioral health for families and veterans.”
Overall, Joining Forces has exceeded his expectations, Cooper said. He never imagined that the nation’s private sector would hire 20,000 people so fast, and that’s just for starters. “We’re at the infancy of this effort, and the trajectory continues to go even steeper and faster,” he said.
To get a true sense of the campaign’s effect, Cooper said people would simply need to ask those most directly affected -- the 20,000 veterans and spouses who have landed a job through Joining Forces hiring actions. “And then ask the next 135,000 what the impact has been or will be in their life,” he said.
Still, much work remains to be done, especially as the wars draw down and more troops enter the workforce. “There’s been a great leap in awareness, service, impact and effect these last few months,” he added. “But tremendous work remains as we have more than a million troops transitioning out of the service by 2015.”