Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald - Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
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Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

Remarks by Secretary Robert A. McDonald

Veterans On Wall Street (VOWS)
New York, New York
November 10, 2015

Thank you, Lloyd, for that kind introduction.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. Here in New York, here at Goldman Sachs especially, we’re celebrating Veterans Day already.

You can’t come to New York City without remembering the day our country was so viciously attacked, remembering all those lost in the World Trade Centers . . . all the first responders lost and all those courageous men and women in uniform who, without the least hesitation or second thought, saw their duty and sacrificed to defend all of us.

So I want to especially acknowledge Veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom here today. We’re forever grateful for your sacrifices.

Let me ask all the Veterans in the audience to stand and be recognized. . . . Thank you for your service to the Nation and your commitment to helping your fellow Veterans, welcoming them to your corporate teams.

On behalf of Veterans, I want to especially recognize Citi, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, and HSBC, as well as the more than 40 member banks on the Veterans on Wall Street team, for hosting this truly important event.

You know, my wife, Diane, and I come from families with strong traditions of military service. Diane’s father was shot down over Europe and survived harsh treatment as a POW. My father served in the Army Air Corps after World War II.

Diane’s uncle served in Vietnam, where he was exposed to Agent Orange. He still receives VA care. And Diane's nephew-in-law is back from the Middle East, commanding a fighter squadron in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

I graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1975 along with VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson, West Point’s 59th Superintendent General Bob Caslen, and 859 other young men.

I'm so proud of my classmate Bob Caslen for the terrific job he is doing leading our beloved alma mater. Bob, would you please stand?

Courage and Drive!

My time at West Point and then as an Airborne Ranger with the 82d Airborne Division instilled in me strong values and a lifelong sense of duty to country. Even after nearly four decades, simple words from West Point’s Cadet Prayer still guide me. That prayer encourages us “to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”

So Veterans Day is particularly important for my family.

We should never forget the tremendous sacrifices Veterans and their families have made—and that Servicemembers and their families keep making—on behalf of the Nation . . . right now . . . this very moment.

Three weeks ago, the country lost Master Sergeant Joshua L. Wheeler in combat in Iraq—a somber reminder for anyone who needs it.

The day after tomorrow, President Obama presents the Medal of Honor to Captain Florent Groberg.

Here’s a great American story. Born in Poissy, France, Flo and his family immigrated to the United States, and Flo became a U.S. citizen. Because he believed he owed something to his country, as we all do, he joined the Army in 2008. Commissioned an infantryman and graduated from Airborne school and Ranger school, he was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division, the Ivy Division. On his second tour to Afghanistan and the Kunar Province, one of the hottest places in the country, he put his life on the line for his Soldiers. Because of his courageous actions, he saved the lives of many. And his team accomplished their mission.

Captain Groberg said, “We defeated the enemy that day. . . . No matter how bad you want to hurt us, we’re always gonna keep standing up and bringing it back twice fold . . . .”

Indomitable courage. Resilience and resolve. Grit. It’s the same character of our Veterans and the men and women defending us tonight.

It’s Veterans like Flo Groberg, like Seth Moulton, like Bob Caslen, like Command Sergeant Major Clark, like my good friend Sloan Gibson, and some 22 million more like them who have defended our freedom. They’re the ones who’ve preserved our opportunities to prosper.

So they deserve and appreciate our heartfelt thanks. But, we can do so much more to show our gratitude, in tangible ways.

I worked at Procter & Gamble for 33 years. Those three decades taught me about the importance of effective management, about the value of strong leadership. And I learned about what makes an organization a high-performance organization: a bedrock of clear purpose, strong values, and enduring principles supporting sound strategies, robust systems and processes, a high-performing culture, and passionate leadership.

I can’t tell you which strategies you need or which systems and processes are right for your particular business or industry. But I can tell you where to find passionate leaders forged in high-performing cultures. Among the ranks of our Nation’s Veterans.

They move mountains. And we should be moving mountains for them.

It’s for them that we’re transforming VA. It’s called MyVA, and the organizing principle is simple: make Veterans the center of everything we do.

Our five main goals are to improve the Veteran experience to be seamless, integrated, and responsive; improve the employee experience so we better serve Veterans; improve our internal support services; establish a culture of continuous improvement; and enhance strategic partnerships.

Improving Veterans’ experience and enhancing strategic partnerships are fundamental to purpose here today.

We’re building vital networks of collaborative relationships across the federal government, across state and local government, and with both non-profit and for-profit organizations so, together, we can serve Veterans better.

Let me give you an example of the immense potential and power of partnerships. In June 2014, First Lady Michelle Obama reminded us, “Tens of thousands of Veterans who risked their lives for our country are sleeping in their cars, or in a shelter, or next to a subway vent.”

“We should be horrified,” she said, “because that’s not who we are as Americans.”

She’s right. It’s not who we are. As part of her Joining Forces Initiative, the First Lady announced the Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness. These are powerful partnerships—Federal agencies working with states and counties and cities in true inter-governmental collaboration with local leaders on the ground. The coalition now numbers over 850 governors, mayors, and other state and local officials who are committed to ending Veteran homelessness in their communities in 2015.

Mayor de Blasio is on that team, along with 27 other mayors and community leaders in New York State. Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans is on the team. Mitch and his partners took charge—marshalled resources, collaborated with federal, state, and local institutions—and New Orleans put an end to Veteran homelessness in their city.

Together with over 2,000 partners across the country, we’ve made a substantial dent in Veterans homelessness, which has declined 33 percent from 2010 to 2014. Here in New York City, estimates are that there are some 1,650 homeless Veterans. That’s half as many as last year.

But we still have work to do.

Simply, we couldn’t do it without grass-roots efforts, determined partnerships, and compassionate leaders.

Directly related is Veteran unemployment. The same principles of partnership and collaboration apply. In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 722,000 unemployed Veterans in the labor force. In 2014, that number dropped to 573,000. In September, we were down to 469,000 unemployed Veterans across the United States. Here in New York State, the number of unemployed Veterans dropped from 33,000 in 2013 to 23,000 in 2014.

So, we’re heading in the right direction. But we can do more.

And the Department of Labor is VA’s principal federal partner helping make a tremendous difference in Veteran unemployment. Each year across the country, the good people at the Department of Labor provide employment and training services to Veterans at their 2,500 American Job Centers—AJCs.

Here in New York, AJCs are called Career Centers, and they’re the centerpiece of Veterans’ employment services. They’re funded by the Department of Labor. They’re administered by state-level Workforce Investment Boards. And they’re operated by local communities.

Last year, AJCs served over 12 million Americans, nearly 800,000 of them were Veterans. And right now, there are over 29,000 job-seeking Veterans registered at New York State’s 89 Career Centers. AJCs help all Americans, but Veterans get top-billing for all of DoL’s training and employment assistance. AJCs are a central location where your Human Resources managers can contact, meet, and communicate with Veterans and transitioning Servicemembers to match them to their current openings.

Here’s what else AJCs can do for you: facilitate Veteran employment with large national employers as well as smaller businesses that do most of the hiring; provide comprehensive services to both employers and job seekers; help you write and post effective job descriptions that resonate with Veterans here in New York City, across the state, region, and across the Nation by way of the National Labor Exchange and the Veterans Employment Center; and they’ll help you develop and implement training programs like OJT and apprenticeships for the Veterans you hire.

Here’s more. DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, called VETS, has initiated a regional engagement and integration strategy. They’re staffing the six nationwide DOL Regional Offices with Regional Veteran Employment Coordinators.

Paul Furbush in DoL’s Region One Office serves New York out of his Boston office.

Paul, could you stand for a moment so folks can see you? You can reach Paul at 617-565-2080. Or introduce yourself by e-mail at Furbush.Paul.M@DoL.Gov.

Paul and his fellow regional coordinators leverage federal, state, and local employment resources and programs. And they conduct employer outreach to make it easier for your companies to find and hire Veterans and spouses. You can find the listing of all the Regional Veteran Employment Coordinators and their contact information at DOL.GOV\VETS.

Earlier, I alluded to the Veterans Employment Center—VEC. The Veterans Employment Center is an expansion of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative. It’s collaboration among the Departments of Labor, Defense, Education, Commerce; the Small Business Administration; the Office of Personnel Management; and Veterans Affairs.

VEC consolidates several government sites and Veteran job opportunities. So it’s the federal government’s single authoritative internet source for connecting transitioning Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families to meaningful career opportunities.

VEC lets users build online career profiles they can share with you—in real time. And it’s another great example of what partnerships and collaboration can accomplish—almost 400,000 Veterans hired since VEC’s launch.

Visit the site:

There, you can access and search 23,000 profiles of Veterans, transitioning Servicemembers, or family members. You’ll find over 13,000 registered fellow employers who’ve committed to hire to 750,000 positions. You can post job openings. You can access resources designed to help recruit and retain talented Veterans. And you can make a public hiring commitment, too, so Veterans know you have a place for them on your team.

In closing, let me share two more initiatives you should know about, ways VA’s working hard to get Veterans working hard. They’re the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative and MyVA Communities.

President Obama challenged VA to help Veterans and families at the local level. He wanted us to help them integrate with communities and find meaningful jobs that can lead to economic success. We accepted the challenge.

As part of our MyVA transformation, in May VA kicked-off the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative, VECI, in New York City and 24 other cities. Our aim: promote local collaboration, dialogue, and partnership among organizations serving transitioning Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. Because of the success of those VECI collaborations, we’re doubling down, expanding to another 25 new communities in early 2016.

These economic communities are helping Veterans gain competitive career skills and knowledge that meet local demand. Here in New York City, your VECI representative is Maureen McCormack. You can reach Maureen at 929-286-0139. Or, send her a note at Maureen.McCormack@VA.Gov. She’ll help.

Maureen’s a great resource for local government offices, employers, educational institutions, and non-profits—so you can begin to build those integrated networks of support. She’ll facilitate Veteran hiring processes, connect you to web-based tools like the Veteran Employment Center, and help shape Veteran hiring commitments from community champions. And Maureen’s a resource for your policy experts looking for ways to overcome challenges unique to Veterans and their families.

If you have time, visit the Veterans Employment Initiative booth set up at the hiring fair here today.

Finally, let me tell you about the MyVA Communities model. In August, I was nearby in Connecticut to help inaugurate the very first Veterans community board in the country using the new MyVA Communities model.

Here’s what these community boards do. MyVA Communities bring together local Veterans service providers, advocates, and others to improve outcomes for Veterans and their families. These are community driven networks. They’re not run by VA, they’re chaired by local leaders. They give Veterans and families a proactive forum to address issues and promote opportunities for collaboration. And they aim to resolve issues and help all of us better meet Veterans’ needs.

Around the country, 37 communities adopted the MyVA model. Twenty-two of those have fully developed boards, and 15 are in the process of completing boards.

Because of New York City’s many local resources and leaders interested in improving Veteran outcomes, the Big Apple is well-equipped to become a MyVA Community. And we’re already talking with Veteran-focused community leaders in the area who are interested in forming a Community Veterans Engagement board.

The Mayors Challenge to End Veterans Homelessness, the Department of Labor, American Job Centers, New York’s Career Centers, the Veterans Employment Center, the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative, and many, many more partnerships and collaborative efforts—these efforts serve the Veterans who have served all of us.

They’re why last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics could announce that overall, Veteran unemployment dropped to 3.9 percent in October 2015. Veteran unemployment has remained lower than nonveteran unemployment for 23 consecutive weeks, and is at its lowest point since April 2008.

But there’s more work to do.

Medal of Honor nominee Captain Flo Groberg put it like this: “Nothing can be accomplished without teamwork. I wouldn't be here without the incredible acts of my team.”

Flo calls his fellow Soldiers "some of the greatest people I've ever met . . . .”

Indeed, they are. My partner Sloan Gibson asks a few simple questions about hiring Veterans. He asks if we can imagine any situation where we don’t need more people who put service before self, who can bridge differences to accomplish great things, who will persevere even in the face of daunting obstacles, whom we can trust implicitly to choose a harder right rather than an easier wrong?

I know business. I know Soldiers. And I know Veterans. I can’t imagine any enterprise that won’t thrive with them.

And that’s what I’m asking you to take back to your colleagues—all the ways you can super-charge your business while serving Veterans.

Our country’s in the longest war in its history. A quarter-million Veterans are returning to our communities this year after doing the heavy lifting for nearly 15 years. They and their families have made immense sacrifices. So ours is a truly sacred commitment. Fulfilling that commitment is why we’re here today.

So, thanks, again, to Goldman Sachs and all the Veterans on Wall Street sponsors.

Let’s roll up the sleeves.