Opinion Columns & Blogs

Editorial: California is failing its unemployed veterans

Today, the state Employment Development Department is holding another “Honor a Hero, Hire a Vet” job fair at the former McClellan Air Force base. Meanwhile at Sacramento City Hall, the state Department of Veterans Affairs is announcing a deal with the High-Speed Rail Authority to boost involvement by small businesses owned by disabled veterans.

There will be good photos and nice speeches. But according to a new state audit, these efforts probably won’t actually help lots of veterans find jobs.

Despite the best intentions and hard work by many state agencies, California’s efforts to help unemployed veterans aren’t producing enough results. In fact, the audit says California has one of the worst records for vets who go through employment programs and actually land jobs.

For instance, after thousands of veterans and hundreds of employers attended job fairs last year, there were a grand total of 60 job offers or hires, according to the state auditor. Besides helping businesses owned by disabled vets, the rail authority is supposed to push other contractors to hire veterans as well. But of 1,000 veterans who were referred to federal contractor job listings, only 28 said they found work, according to a quarterly report that EDD filed in February.

If you’re a jobless veteran, it can be frustrating to find your way through the bureaucratic maze. The California Interagency Council on Veterans, created by Gov. Jerry Brown in August 2011, is trying to coordinate what state agencies are doing. As successes, it points to a program to help veterans become security guards and apprenticeships in the construction industry. There are lots of initiatives and pilot projects, but many are unfocused and unproven.

One major flaw is that it’s not clear which agency can best oversee jobs programs for veterans. The audit released last week shows that EDD is not doing the job. Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez is pushing to create a separate veterans employment office within the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency. Other legislators think CalVet should be in charge.

Another big failure: It’s still too difficult for veterans to transfer their military training into civilian workplaces. Despite a bushel of bills, the Legislature has not done enough to help veterans get college credit and licensing credentials – for instance, combat medics who want to become nurses.

Other states are making much more progress. In April, Maryland’s governor signed the Veterans Full Employment Act, which requires public colleges to develop policies to grant academic credit for military training and which also ensures that vets who apply for occupational and professional licenses get credit. It’s very disappointing that when the feds in September announced $2.8million in grants to nine universities to help medics get nursing degrees, none of them were in California, while three were in Florida and two in Virginia.

More veterans live here than in any other state – 1.8million, with 40,000 more returning here each year. The state has had years to work on these issues.

California should be leading the way – not still trying to figure out where to go. Veterans Day is coming up Monday. To truly honor their service, state officials and legislators should vow to do better in helping vets find good jobs, then follow through.