Politics & Government

Data sought on how veterans fare as civilians

Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the state of Washington have been pouring resources into new programs to help veterans find steady work over the past few years, and now officials want to know if the efforts are paying off.

The state has established goals to deliver 5 percent of state contracts to veteran-owned businesses, hire veterans in state agencies and increase college retention among recent veterans.

But data is hard to come by, officials told Gov. Jay Inslee Tuesday at a quarterly meeting of the Washington Military Transition Council.

It’s a common problem across the Defense Department. In April, the federal Government Accountability Office published a report on military transition programs that cited cutting-edge programs at JBLM. But it found little data across the country on how military service members fared in the civilian world, even six months after leaving uniform.

Instead, military bases were only able to show data regarding how often troops used their programs.

Inslee was speaking to a group he created last year that calls on military and civilian agencies to collaborate on reducing unemployment among veterans. It aspires to help military service members find a job as soon as they separate from the Armed Forces and to connect them with better-paying work.

“This is where the real work is done to honor our people,” Inslee said. “What we’re doing may not be as eloquent as the Gettysburg Address, but it’s where we really honor our veterans.”

Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs Director Lourdes Alvarado-Ramos said her agency is working on collecting data on veteran-owned businesses receiving state contracts. A representative from the state Office of Financial Management is updating statistics on veterans in the state workforce.

But there’s no easy solution for tracking private sector data.

More than 11,000 veterans are expected to leave the military out of Washington state installations each year through 2016 as the Defense Department carries out a postwar drawdown.

JBLM is home to innovative programs preparing troops for civilian work. There’s one that trains them for jobs at Microsoft, another in the heating and air conditioning industry. Officials are working on programs to train troops for retail management and other fields, as well.

Over the past year, more than 4,200 troops at JBLM took advantage of programs that let them visit job fairs, businesses and colleges during their final months of military service.

“Other states are trying to replicate the kinds of success we’re having,” JBLM base Commander Col. Charles Hodges told the council Tuesday.

In the past year, the Legislature passed a law offering immediate in-state tuition at public universities to veterans who move here. Lawmakers passed another law prodding schools to offer more credit for military experience.

Inslee floated the idea Tuesday of persuading government agencies and federal contractors to commit to setting employment targets for veterans.

“Veterans really ought to have some sort of leg up, given who they are,” he said.