Chamber, Labor Dept. teaming up to get veterans back to work

Two frequent sparring partners are teaming up to get veterans back to work.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Department of Labor are hosting career fairs in 14 states to try to help veterans returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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The unemployment rate for all veterans in August was 8.7 percent, less than the overall rate of 9.6 percent. But many young veterans from the wars of the last decade have trouble finding work when they leave the military, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2009, young veterans aged 18 to 24 had an unemployment rate of 21.6 percent, slightly higher than the average for non-veterans in that age group of 19.1 percent.

The goal of the job fairs is to bring these young veterans into contact with prospective employers, and to teach businesses that veterans are worth hiring. The fairs are also intended to help veterans get the proper training to prepare themselves for the workforce.

“When they come out of the military they have to start all over again,” said Tom Donahue, president and CEO at the Chamber. Many veterans are left feeling unsure of how to immerse themselves back into the workforce, he added.

The Chamber has fought with the Obama administration on a host of issues over the past two years. It opposed the administration’s reform bills of healthcare and Wall Street, and has criticized the White House on a host of tax policies.

The business lobby has also battled the Labor Department over “card-check” legislation pushed by unions that would make it easier for workers to organize, as well as a host of other issues.

Deputy Labor Secretary Seth Harris acknowledged that some might find it surprising to see the Chamber and Labor cooperating on anything. But he said the business lobby and administration had no disagreement when it came to helping veterans.

“When it comes to America’s heroes, we all stand together,” Harris said.

The Chamber and Labor Department hope over time to spread the pilot program, which will begin in November, to all 50 states.

“We want to roll this initiative out nationwide as soon as we can,” said Ray Jefferson, assistant secretary for veterans employment and training at Labor.

The 14 states included in the pilot program are Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas and Virginia.