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New Employment Initiative for Wounded Vets Unveiled

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2004 – Injured servicemembers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan will get individualized job training, counseling and re-employment services, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao announced Oct. 4.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao joins Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Farmer Jr., commanding general of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and Navy Rear Adm. Adam M. Robinson, commanding officer of the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., at a signing ceremony to kick off the first phase of a program called REALifelines. The program is a joint commitment by the Department of Labor, the military medical community, and local agencies to help wounded veterans transition back into the private sector. The ceremony took place at Walter Reed on Oct. 4. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

During a signing ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, Chao joined Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Farmer Jr., commanding general at the Army hospital, and Navy Rear Adm. Adam M. Robinson, commanding officer of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to kick off the first phase of REALifelines (Recovery and Employment Assistance Lifelines), a joint commitment by the Department of Labor, the military medical community and local agencies.

The Labor Department is investing $500,000 into the first phase of the program, which will create a team of on-site counselors at both medical facilities to help wounded veterans in their transition back into the private sector.

REALifeline counselors will help servicemembers identify barriers to employment and set up individual recovery and re-employment plans, Chao said.

"They are going to help each person discover his or her personal interest and unique talent," she said. "And they will help each veteran find the right career path to his or her special need."

She emphasized that "personalized care" will be a priority of the program. "If you have been wounded or injured serving this nation, real people are going to meet you face to face with the personalized help that you may need to recover and to succeed in a career that you love," Chao said.

The program will also provide a national tracking system to ensure follow-up services and link servicemembers with local professionals able to support their recovery and re-employment through a range of services.

In addition, she said, a national call center will soon be available to answer questions and offer employment guidance to wounded veterans.

As part of the program, wounded veterans and their spouses also will be able to take advantage of services offered at more than 3,500 one-stop career centers the Department of Labor has set up nationwide.

"This administration is committed to ensuring that our nation's wounded veterans are treated with the respect and honor that they deserve," Chao told an audience of current and former soldiers -- some of them patients at the hospital -- others veterans in wheelchairs, and Purple Heart recipients.

The new benefits will come in handy for those like Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Shakur Abdul Ali, of Philadelphia. The 22-year veteran injured his back while on duty in Iraq and may need surgery.

"This is a very important step for soldiers," Ali said. "The soldier needs to know there is something out there to reward them, to let them know they are not just being kicked to the curb," he said. "This is something that will uplift their spirits and let them know that that their service wasn't in vain."

Army Reserve Spc. Elijah Stephens, of Flowery Branch, Ga., shares that view. Stephens has a heart condition and was sent home from Iraq after serving seven months there.

"It's really good to see soldiers taken care of because people come back and their lives are changed forever," he noted. "It gives them something to look forward to. This isn't the end of my life as I know it."

The secretary apologized for being several minutes late for the signing ceremony, after overspending her time at the hospital's physical-therapy ward, where she met with wounded servicemembers and their families.

She said the time spent was "rewarding" and called the soldiers "some of the most inspiring and outstanding young men and women that I have ever met."

"And I'm so proud of them," she added.

Chao, who visited troops in Iraq earlier this year, said the country owes a "tremendous debt of gratitude not only to wounded veterans, but to all the brave men and women who have defended our nation in the global war on terrorism with such honor and with such valor."

The Oct. 4 signing was not the first time the Department of Labor has reached out to support servicemembers.

On Sept. 27, the secretary signed a memorandum of understanding with the Justice Department that will ensure the employment rights of returning servicemembers are protected under guidelines of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.

Contact Author

Biographies:
Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao

Related Sites:
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
National Naval Medical Center



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