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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald

Women’s Veterans Career Development Forum
Women in Military Service for America Memorial
Washington, D.C.
November 10, 2014

Dave McIntyre, thank you for that introduction.

Ms. Roslyn Ridgeway, thanks to you and everyone at BPW [Business and Professional Women’s Foundation] for your great work on behalf of women Veterans.

And Ms. Meredith Rollins, Redbook, thank you for putting women Veterans in your very bright spotlight. Everyone needs to know their stories.

This Forum couldn’t happen without collaboration and partnership among a host of sponsors—TriWest, BPW, Redbook, and many others. Thanks to all of you. Individually, our organizations may have very different goals, but helping women Veterans succeed brings us together.

Other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

As we prepare for Veterans Day celebrations tomorrow, there’s no better place to hold the Women Veterans Career Development Forum than here in the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.

So, let me recognize General Wilma Vaught—it’s so special to be with you this morning, in this national shrine.

But for Wilma Vaught and her inspirational leadership, this powerful monument wouldn’t be here. Motivated by her devotion to women Veterans and fueled by sheer determination, General Vaught persevered through numerous and unpredictable challenges. It was about mission accomplishment, the only outcome she and other women Veterans were willing to accept.

So, thank you, Wilma, for your vision, for your hard work, and for your example to all women Veterans and all of us. I know what makes good businesses great businesses. And it’s always the people. If excellence is what they’re after, employers seek Wilma Vaught’s brand of character and spirit.

That’s what so many of you represent—good, committed people with vision, courage, and determination.

Good CEOs want teams filled with people like that, and—as we see it—opportunities for employers are expanding quickly. Today, 20 percent of those defending our Nation are women. Over the next several years we expect over one million Servicemembers will transition to civilian life—about 200,000 women Veterans. While just five years ago women represented eight percent of the Veteran community, today they represent nearly 11 percent. In 20 years, that number will grow to 15 percent.

Women veterans are an invaluable human resource—focused, committed, and mission-driven. All of us understand that opportunity, but we have to do better helping employers understand it. We have a host of folks at VA who are committed to doing just that.

For employment in both the private and federal sectors, our specialists provide job and career management services meant to attract, retain, and support Veteran employees. We have the tools to help you translate military skills into civilian language, to build effective resumes, and to search and apply for open positions. We have coordinators across the Nation working to identify talented, job-seeking Veterans and match experience, skills, and training with job opportunities.

You’re a Veteran. You understand the challenges Veterans face better than anybody.

Well, I’m hiring. See how you can join VA’s “One team with one dream” and make real differences in the life of our fellow Veterans.

We also have a team of five Veteran senior enlisted leaders supporting our efforts to help you find the right job. These folks dedicated their lives to you while you served.

Now, they’re continuing that mission by helping raise awareness of VA transition and employment initiatives across military communities and helping educate employers about Veterans.

They’re here this morning: Jack Tilley, the 12th Sergeant Major of the Army; Al McMichael, the 14th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps; Jim Herdt, the 9th Master Chief Petty Officer of the United States Navy; Jim Finch, the 13th Chief Master Sergeant of the United States Air Force; And Vince Patton, the 8th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard. Thank you for your dedicated service to the Nation and for continuing to serve as Veterans.

Transitioning to the civilian workforce is tough. VA’s goal is to support women Veterans and help you successfully bridge that transition. That’s what VA’s Transition GPS—Goals, Plans, Success—is for. We put more than 325 Benefits Advisors at nearly 300 installations worldwide to provide individual assistance on VA benefits and services. Last year, almost 300,000 Servicemembers and family members participated. If you’re still in uniform, leverage that resource for all its worth. It’s for you. It’s for your family.

Later today, you’ll hear from the First Lady. No one is more committed to Veteran success than First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. Their Joining Forces initiative is leading the charge nationwide, and VA’s honored to partner with them.

The Veterans Employment Center is a great example. It’s a web-based product of creative partnerships and collaboration. It brings public and private employers together with Veteran job seekers, transitioning Servicemembers, and families. Michelle and Jill announced the Veterans Employment Center last April. Right now, in the Veterans Job Bank, there are 1.7 million jobs. More than 3,400 registered employers have committed to hire over 227,000 Veterans, and nearly 150,000 Veterans have been hired so far. It’s a great resource. Take advantage of it. There’s a Veterans Employment Center table set up at this Forum to make it easier. Stop by and say hello to our VA representatives.

So, there are a lot of people working hard to help you succeed—and you will succeed. I have every confidence in you.

Before closing, I want to touch on something affecting all of us, that we must all work together to solve. I’m talking about Veteran homelessness. Specifically, this morning, I’m thinking about women Veteran homelessness.

January 2014’s Point in Time Count—the PIT count—estimated there are nearly 50,000 homeless Veterans. That’s a 33 percent decrease since the 2010 PIT count, and a 40 percent drop in the number Veterans sleeping on the street.

Good news, but as long as there is just one Veteran who is homeless, we have much more work to do.

Homeless women Veterans accounted for 10 percent of that population. Many face challenges returning to civilian life—challenges that are different from their male counterparts’. And research shows that women Veterans are more reluctant than men to seek help.

Some are either not aware of or do not think they are eligible for the VA services or benefits they have earned, and that they need. So we’re missing too many.

They may not know about the joint effort between Housing and Urban Development and VA Supportive Housing. They may not know about VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families program or our Health Care for Reentry Veterans Services program. They may not know about our Veterans Justice Outreach program that’s helping head-off homelessness by working to ensure eligible justice-involved Veterans have timely access to VHA mental health, substance abuse, homeless services—and other VA services and benefits.

VA Community Employment Coordinators are making a difference by training homeless services providers to connect Veterans to the right VA or community-based employment services.

But we still have a lot of work to do. We have to keep collaborating and partnering to ensure women Veterans have access to supportive services and benefits they need and earned selflessly serving.

So this morning, I’m pleased to join Dave McIntyre and announce a new partnership between TriWest Healthcare Alliance and Veterans Affairs. TriWest and VA have agreed to combine resources to mobilize employers, community leaders, and committed citizens to help the women Veterans most in need of jobs—they’re the 5,000 women Veterans who are homeless, and those at greatest risk of homelessness.

Starting in Seattle, Phoenix, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu, TriWest and VA Benefits Advisors will work closely with these women to match skills and interests with employers who value the work ethic women Veterans bring. Then, we’ll shape future efforts based on our successes and lessons learned—so we can help more women Veterans more quickly.

The First Lady will announce a few more important partnerships to help. So stay tuned.

Thank you for having me this morning. And on behalf of everyone at Veterans Affairs, thank you for your service. God bless you and all of your families.

Now, let’s get to work.