Americans come together each year on November 11 to celebrate and honor our nation’s veterans. These brave men and women sacrificed to provide their children and grandchildren with the opportunity to achieve the American Dream, so it’s imperative we make certain they themselves have the opportunity to live the American Dream.
In Kansas and across the country, veterans face a myriad of challenges when they return home from service — from braving mental health conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, to the basics needed to enter the workforce like creating or updating a resume. With 34,000 servicemen and women expected to return home by February 2014, practical programs and services must be in place to help them transition from one chapter of their lives to the next.
Whether it’s continuing their education, finding a job to support their families, or starting their own business, Kansans continue a strong tradition of working to help our servicemen and women attain their goals.
For soldiers and their families looking to obtain a college degree, universities across the state offer flexible and affordable options such as online coursework and accelerated programs. Fort Riley and Kansas State University also have an unconventional collaboration connecting eight Division I sports teams and four club-level teams with combat units at Fort Riley. From scrimmaging to attending deployment and return ceremonies, the fellowship creates a mutual appreciation and has even inspired some soldiers to become the first in their families to attend college upon separation from service.
A real concern for veterans when returning to civilian life is finding a job and business owners in Kansas should strongly consider hiring our heroes. According to extensive interviews conducted last summer by the Center for a New American Security, business owners hire veterans because of their leadership and teamwork skills, character, discipline, effectiveness and loyalty. Numerous large companies like Garmin and Sprint have veteran-employment initiatives, so it’s encouraging to see small businesses also taking steps toward proactively recruiting our heroes.
National initiatives are important, but support at the local level such as the job fairs at all of our Kansas military installations also make a difference.
Veterans are offered this kind of community networking and support through organizations like GallantFew, which was founded by Army Ranger veteran Karl Monger of Wichita in 2009. GallantFew exists to reduce veteran unemployment, homelessness, and eliminate veteran suicide. The nonprofit organization changes lives by pairing “seasoned” veterans who have successfully established their civilian careers with “new” veterans to mentor and facilitate a seamless transition from active military service to civilian life. You can get help or get involved by visiting www.gallantfew.org.
For many veterans, entrepreneurship is becoming an increasingly valuable way of providing for their families. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 2.4 million businesses, 9 percent of companies nationwide, are owned by veterans. And according to the Kansas City-based Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation — the largest foundation in the world devoted to entrepreneurship — today, 45 percent of veterans start their own businesses upon completion of their military service.
In April, I convened a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee roundtable with business owners and veteran organization representatives to discuss the state of veteran entrepreneurship, ideas on how current programs may be improved, and gaps not being addressed. I’m also a sponsor of the Servicemembers’ Choice in Transition Act, which includes a provision to empower military members who seek to own a small business the ability to pursue that dream as part of the Transition Assistance Program.
On Veterans’ Day, we express our gratitude for the service of those who have protected our way of life and allowed us to remain the strongest and freest nation in the world. Let’s make certain whether veterans wish to start their own business, commence a job search, or go back to school, they are able to achieve the same American Dream they sacrificed so much to protect.
God bless our veterans: we respect you, we thank you and we love you.