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San Diego County to boost hiring, services for veterans

San Diego Union-Tribune - 9/28/2022

Hundreds of thousands of San Diego County veterans will receive new job opportunities and services under plans passed Tuesday to hire more veterans for county positions and create a veteran resource center in East County.

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to recruit and hire more veterans to fill county staff vacancies, noting that some military veterans struggle to find employment and return to civilian life after their service ends. To ease that transition, they also voted to add comprehensive services at existing veteran centers and seek a site for a new one in East County.

"You learn a lot of tremendous skills in military: service, sacrifice, commitment, being a part of a team," said Board Chair Nathan Fletcher, himself a Marine veteran, who introduced the proposal with Supervisor Jim Desmond, a Navy veteran. "We know that veterans make great workers, but they make up right now a very small percentage of our county workforce, and I believe we can do better."

The board also approved plans to coordinate existing veteran services through a model, known as a center for military and veteran reintegration, that combines numerous services under one roof — including education and employment assistance, small business support, wellness, home ownership services and financial assistance.

Almost 250,000 veterans live in San Diego County, according to the California Association of County Veterans Service Officers.

However, county officials said the region has a higher veteran unemployment rate than other metropolitan areas. San Diego has a veteran unemployment rate of 5.6 percent — higher than many other metropolitan areas, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, and nearly twice that of Austin, Texas, according to the San Diego Regional Chamber Foundation.

"Veterans face employment barriers for a variety of reasons including difficulty translating military experience to civilian work, lack of job search and interview experience, a supportive work environment, and health issues," the board staff report on veteran hiring said. Meanwhile, San Diego County has a vacancy rate of 13.5 percent among its staff positions, according to the report.

Under the county initiative, each county department will develop plans to recruit, hire and retain veterans, with the goal of doubling the number of veterans the county employs by 2030. Veterans currently make up 5.7 percent of the county's workforce. The board asked staff to return with a detailed plan and hiring targets within 120 days.

Desmond also recommended considering ways to transfer military certifications to civilian jobs in areas such as heavy equipment use, social services or police work, in order to streamline hiring requirements. The board asked staff to explore ways to apply military credentials to county jobs when they present their plan.

"Our veterans play a critical role in our lives, and our economy," Desmond said. "They deserve as much support as possible to shift back to civilian life."

In a related item, the board voted to establish a veteran resource center in East County, which the staff report said is home to 57,455 veterans. Nonetheless, District 2 — which is represented by Supervisor Joel Anderson and covers much of rural East County — is the only county supervisory district with no such a center.

The staff report called for identifying a site for a new veteran resource center that would offer comprehensive services such as conventional financial and educational programs, along with recreation, senior services, a co-working space, behavioral health services and telemedicine.

It also recommended switching existing resource centers to the military and veteran reintegration model, offering a broader range of coordinated programs in each center.

Several veterans who spoke on the matter applauded plans for the new center, saying that while training for military service is efficient and extensive, support for returning to civilian life is not as thorough.

"Providing a one-stop shop for someone who has a multitude of needs makes things easier, less stressful and less confusing," said speaker Jordan Beane, with the Regional Task Force on Homelessness.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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