The South West Transit Association held its annual meeting and expo in Little Rock, Ark., February 3-6 and day one included a session that focused on veterans: transit's role in providing jobs and access and the programs and services offered to help veterans in their job search.
SWTA Executive Director Kristen Joyner introduced the session pointing out that 1 percent of our population are the ones tasked with keeping us safe and when they come home, some are not as complete as when they left. She asked the crowd to consider what we can do as an industry to encourage them, help them and move this great generation forward.
United States Department of Labor Acting Chief of Staff Major Brian J. Ketz talked about some of the ways agencies can help veterans find meaningful jobs when they return. The Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS) serves America's veterans and separating service members by preparing them for meaningful careers, providing employment resources and expertise, and protecting their employment rights.
He talked about a variety of sites that agencies and their HR personnel can use to better reach this audience. The websites discussed during the sessions included:
And on the DOT's Veterans Transportation Career Center, there is additional information on the acceleration of credentialing for the CDL for veterans. New federal rules and regulations now allow State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLA), the right to waive the commercial driver’s license (CDL) skills test for military personnel who have two years of safe driving experience in a large truck or bus. Other restrictions may be applied by each individual State.
American Public Transportation Association Chief Counsel James LaRusch, a 22-year+ veteran, pointed out that troops come back trained and trainable and they come trained to lead. A resource from APTA is the Veteran and Military Family Resource Center which launched February 1.
The website features what agencies are doing at the local level and there's a discussion forum to find out some of the neat things going on. LaRusch pointed out that it only works with participation so he encouraged everyone to go and share what you're doing.
Joyner talked about SWTA's initiative, Operation Veterans in Public Transportation (OVIPT). It stresses two points that a job in public transportation offers: it's not just a job it's a career, and, for those that have been serving overseas or out of state, a job in transit provides the opportunity to be home every night. The trucking industry has been on the forefront of putting veterans to work, which does not afford the opportunity for them to be home with their families.
Abilene CityLink Transit General Manager gave an insightful — and often humorous — presentation on what employing veterans has meant for their agency. With an Air Force base next door, Abilene is a strong military community and 32 percent of the employees at CityLink are veterans. He talked about how veterans are used to being team players, they are used to working on large equipment or driving large vehicles, they're used to working with federal government regulations and they pass the drug test — something many agencies mentioned was at times an issue.
Chris Zeilinger, director for the National Resource Center for Human Service Transportation, said of the approximately 22 million veterans, 18 percent — at most — are utilizing the Department of Veterans Affairs service. That is important to keep in mind when looking at this, he stated. "These men and women have served our country and we need to, in turn, serve them."
He discussed how the veteran's health system works and talked about how the NRCHS provides resources for agencies. He also pointed out that most of these folks don't have money. Veterans service groups don't come with money to the table but they're important allies.
John Hedrick, the director of transportation with the East Texas Council of Governments talked about EasTexConnects which is a mobility program designed to give east Texans a way to travel to the Dallas/Fort Worth area by using public transit. With assistance from local transit providers, Amtrak and Dallas Area Rapid Transit, EasTexConnects held an event May 10, 2012, "Basic Training."
Basic Training provided a day where they took people to the VA hospital in Dallas, where the DART folks were there to meet them and escort the group on.