November 10, 2015

Student veterans Chris Fears and Adam Martin with Senator Norris

Student veterans Chris Fears and Adam Martin with Senator Norris

Veterans Deserve Our Support for Their Service

One of my pet peeves is politicians and others who confuse Veterans Day with Memorial Day.

This Veterans Day, watch for well-meaning, but mistaken, email and social media blasts giving thanks “to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and paid the ultimate price.” That’s sentiment best saved for Memorial Day when, in May of each year, we remember those either killed in action or who have died since their days of service.

My father was a B-24 pilot who served in World War II, and he died more than 50 years ago. I honor his service on Memorial Day.

Fortunately, my father-in-law is still living. He is an Air Force Veteran who served in Korea. I honor his service on Veterans Day.

Veterans Day is for the living. It’s a day to focus on what we can do to recognize, thank and support our veterans. Not only those retired, but those of working age.

The Tennessee General Assembly is working to reduce unemployment among our veterans. Not only through programs like Paychecks for Patriots, but through initiatives to equip them with the tools they need to earn better paychecks.

A recent survey showed that, at 9.7%, Tennessee had the fourth highest veteran unemployment rate in the country. This is unacceptable. The national average is 6.5%.

Ironically, veterans are often the most highly skilled and well-trained workforce available. But for the lack of a relevant certificate or meaningful college degree in too many cases, they are ready to seize better employment opportunities which abound.

The resurgence of modern manufacturing and rising demand for skilled labor in Tennessee is a perfect opportunity. Here’s what we’re doing to help our vets maximize this opportunity.

First, we enacted the Veterans Education Transition Support (VETS) Act which I championed in 2013 to establish VETS-friendly campuses in Tennessee.

Last Saturday, during the University of Memphis – Navy game, I was honored to present the University of Memphis its VETS campus designation certificate. Two student veterans, Chris Fears and Adam Martin, proudly stood on Rex Dockery Field at the Liberty Bowl with me.

The VETS Campus designation means the college or university has streamlined the admissions process and increased outreach to veterans through priority placement creating an environment in which veteran students have the resources to succeed and excel.

Specific requirements include annual surveys of veteran students, targeted orientation programs, and mentoring and support services developed specifically for students who are veterans.

The Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) administers the VETS Campus program and certifies the designation to campuses that meet the requirements specified by the VETS Act. To date, 12 campuses, including the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences, have earned this designation, and veteran enrollment is increasing.

Second, I enacted Public Chapter 219 this year which focuses on “prior learning assessment.” This new law develops the award of credit toward a certificate or degree for actual experience during service. For example, if a veteran was a diesel mechanic, aviation specialist, welder or otherwise had special training and experience in service, that prior learning should count for credit toward a certificate of degree.

Student veterans at Chattanooga State Community College VETS ceremony

Student veterans at Chattanooga State Community College VETS ceremony

Third, this year’s budget included special funding for veterans education. $1 million was provided to 11 schools including the University of Memphis to help “Vets Reconnect.”

Finally, in order to ensure that eligible veterans in Shelby, Fayette and Tipton County have access to the long-term care and rehabilitation services they have earned and deserve, we are working hard to build a new State Veterans Home in West Tennessee.

Under a budget amendment which I sponsored, the General Assembly has now allocated sufficient funds to acquire property upon which a 148 bed facility will be built. A site in Arlington, Tennessee has been identified and will soon be acquired.

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With help from the Plough Foundation, the volunteer West Tennessee Veterans Home Board (veterans-home.com), Shelby County Government and private donors, we are well on our way to raising the funds necessary to match the additional state and federal funding which will be required for construction.

This Veterans Day, let’s thank the living for their service. Hire a veteran. Contribute to the West Tennessee Veterans Home. Our veterans risked their lives for us. Now it’s our turn to help make their lives better. It’s the least we can do.

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