WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The White House initiative to hire veterans and military spouses has surpassed its goals, having led to the hiring or training of more than 125,000 veterans and spouses in the past year, First Lady Michelle Obama announced Aug 22.
Speaking to sailors and their families at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Fla., the first lady said 2,000 companies have hired 125,000 employees through their pledges to the "Joining Forces" campaign, and, of those, 140 employers have hired 28,000 military spouses.
"That's 125,000 people who are providing for their families, contributing to our economy and serving the country they love," Obama said.
The first lady said she has a clear message to troops, spouses and veterans: "When you finish your service to your nation, you've got 2,000 great companies waiting to bring you on board. These companies are not just making these commitments because it's the right thing to do, which it is, but because it's the right thing for their bottom line."
Obama said she had heard "a thousand times over" from heads of companies who say veterans and military spouses are their best employees.
Unemployment still is too high for veterans and military spouses, but Joining Forces has helped to push the national veteran unemployment rate down nearly 20 percent from a year ago, Obama said. The veteran unemployment rate in July was 6.9 percent, compared to 8.6 percent in July 2011, Joining Forces officials said during a call with reporters Aug. 21.
Though the initiative has exceeded its goals, Obama said, the participating companies have pledged to hire another 250,000 veterans and spouses, with at least 50,000 of that total being spouses. "It would be understandable if these companies just stopped now and patted themselves on the back and called it a day," the first lady said. "But these companies are doing just the opposite."
The first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, started Joining Forces in April 2011 to rally Americans to actively support service members and their families in areas of employment, education and wellness. A year ago, President Barack Obama asked Joining Forces to challenge the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013.
"I thought this challenge was pretty ambitious," the first lady, said, noting that the effort was launched with just two partner companies. "Before long, companies all over this country had started stepping up." By April, they had hired 60,000 veterans and spouses, and by May, the number was 80,000. The federal government has made the same commitment, and veterans and spouses made up 28 percent of all federal hiring last year, a White House official told reporters.
Also at the event, Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, chief of naval personnel, said he supports Joining Forces because it has had "a huge impact" on Sailors, their spouses and veterans. "They've shined a spotlight on the unique needs and strengths of military families and veterans," he said.
The Joining Forces initiative to make professional licenses portable from state to state for military spouses is "near and dear to my heart," Van Buskirk said. His wife is a speech pathologist who has had to recertify multiple times, he explained.
"With constant transfers, our spouses face challenges that can be daunting," he added.
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