Over 600 attendees participated in the virtual Virginia Veterans and Military Affairs Conference and Annual Virginia Values Veterans Awards Program on Aug. 19, which aimed to celebrate military members, veterans and their families.
The event was hosted by the Virginia Chamber Foundation, the Virginia Veterans Services Foundation and the Virginia Department of Veterans Services.
Due to a partnership with the Department of Veteran Services through the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Program, since 2012, 60,000 military veterans have been hired in Virginia civilian workforce, according to Barry DuVal, president and CEO of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
“Virginia is home to a very strong military community,” he said. “We remain very committed as a Commonwealth, those in the public and private sector, to make sure Virginia continues to be the best state for business but also the best state for veterans.”
Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger started off the conference thanking military members for their service. The main question she set out to answer was how to strengthen Virginia “as a place to call home” for veterans.
“The strong presence of military employees, service members and veterans here in Virginia makes us richer,” she said. “It renews our shared sense of public service and it reminds us that there are common goals that can bring us together. Even in moments of hard division and national doubt, we can share a purpose and a home that is far greater than ourselves.”
To empower veterans, Spanberger emphasized that they must have access to health care, receive support from their employers as well as other types of benefits.
“We need to back up our words with concrete actions that have real impacts on the ground,” she said.
Spanberger highlighted some of her efforts on Capitol Hill that support military members and veterans in the transition into the workforce. For example, she authored a letter that requested the “prioritization of a veterans first contracting program” which was featured in the Appropriations Bill this year. The program “requires the [United States Department of Veterans Affairs] to provide preferences to service-disabled veteran-owned businesses and veteran-owned small businesses in fulfilling their contractional needs.”
However, she acknowledged that this effort only addressed one issue veterans face while pursuing the workforce. Unreliable internet access remains another challenge.
“Now that many of our workplaces, schools and meetings have moved online, we see the competitive and economic disadvantage a lack of internet can cause,” said Spanberger. “Fundamentally, equal access to internet is an issue of economic and educational opportunity.”
To close the divide, Spanberger has pushed for additional funding for broadband infrastructure projects in Virginia.
She has also worked to improve support for women veterans and is raising awareness and building networks through veteran service organizations to address the “silent epidemic” of veteran suicides.
“The wounds of war are not always visible and we must stand with those who continue to experience pain,” Spanberger added.
During the “Strengthening Virginia For Our Military and Veteran Community” panel, discussions focused on veteran unemployment rates and support for military spouses.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the veteran unemployment rate has reached 12%. Additionally, this year, over 100,000 military members are transitioning out of service, according to Mike Melo, president and CEO of ITA International.
To address the current economic crisis, companies like Dominion Energy, have developed goals around assisting with the military service transition. For example, the launch of the Hire Veterans Fellowship, which aids military families as well as provide retention and salary benefits.
“A lot of things that are really baked into our policies,” said Adam Lee, vice president and chief security officer at Dominion Energy. “It’s not just sort of an affinity group that is there as a resource. It is something that really does drive policy and drives that sensibility. And I think that’s what makes us so strong in the area.”
Chris Doss, senior director of operations at Capital One, described military spouses’ as the “backbone of the military.” To better support military spouses during the hiring process, Capital One has looked towards helping the recruitment team better understand their resumes and the experiences they could bring to a corporate environment.
“Many people would look at their resume and think they were running from law enforcement because every two to three years they move around the country or the globe,” said Doss. “But they’re up and picking up their family in a lot of cases and moving them from one station to a next. And the amount of resiliency that is required in order to do that over and over again is just phenomenal and something that I think all companies can benefit from.”
At the end of the conference, businesses across the state were recognized through an awards ceremony which included the V3 Governor’s Awards, the V3 Secretary’s Award, V3 Hire VETS Now Fellowship Award, the V3 Breakthrough Award, V3 Spouse Award, V3 Readiness Award, V3 Trailblazer Award and the V3 Locality Award.