Veterans get a helping hand: Outreach event provides advice on jobs and entrepreneurship

Hank Hayes • Aug 17, 2013 at 4:49 PM

KINGSPORT — There appeared to be enough state and federal resource people inside the Kingsport Center for Higher Education Thursday to address any kind of major crisis situation.

But they were all there for one reason — to help American veterans.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe hosted a “Services For Those Who Have Served” veterans outreach event to advise veterans on housing, financing and starting a small business, skills development, job seeking, and other support services.

“We can’t help you unless we know who you are,” U.S. Small Business Administration District Director Walter Perry told veterans during one panel discussion at the center’s auditorium.

Veterans are returning to a mixed economy. They have an unemployment rate about one point below the national average of 7 percent, and more than 13 percent are self-employed.

But the unemployment rate for veterans younger than 30 ranges from 10 percent to 20 percent, and more than 10 million are not in the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet veterans’ positives clearly outweigh the negatives, retired U.S. Navy Admiral John McKinley said.

“They know how to take orders, and more importantly, how to give them,” McKinley said. “They know how to perform under pressure, and they deliver performance with results. They understand self-sacrifice, and they know how to communicate and set goals.”

Adam Guinn, a former U.S. Navy gunner’s mate who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom, was at the event to learn about starting a small business.

“Small business for me would be doing some sort of a trade,” said Guinn, who is now employed with the sheriff’s office in Johnson County.

Aundrea Wilcox, executive director of the Kingsport Office of Small Business and Entrepreneurship, suggested good employment areas for veterans might be in health care, education, logistics or franchising.

Kingsport-based Eastman Chemical Co. prides itself on being military-friendly when considering new hires.

“I’m hiring like crazy at Eastman (Chemical Co.). ... There are jobs out there for very qualified people,” said Jerry Bush, Eastman’s principal staffing recruiter. “Eastman also has about 3,000 contractors inside the [company] fence.”

Congress, meanwhile, continues to work on legislation to help veterans land post-service jobs, including bills to extend retraining assistance and provide subsidies to employers who hire veterans younger than 35 or between the ages of 55 and 65. There’s also legislation that would require the Justice Department and Homeland Security Department to each spend $125 million providing grants to hire veterans as first-responders.

Roe (R-Tenn.) noted the Department of Veterans Affairs is virtually exempt from the federal sequestration process triggering automatic federal budget cuts.

Roe said Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, will have no impact on veterans’ medical benefits because those benefits already meet minimum federal standards.

There are about 70,000 veterans in Roe’s 1st Congressional District. “That’s more veterans than any other [congressional] district in the state,” noted Roe, a Vietnam-era Army veteran who served in Korea.

McKinley said employers should remember that as veterans return to civilian life, they exemplify the values of honesty, integrity, hard work, personal responsibility and persistence.

“Tomorrow’s veterans are in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans, the Sinai Desert ... and around the world,” McKinley said. “They are protecting our trade routes and our national sovereignty. And yes, they are fighting global terrorism.”

The veterans outreach event included presenters from the U.S. Small Business Administration, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Tennessee Small Business Development Center at East Tennessee State University, Kingsport Chamber of Commerce and Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs.

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