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Opinion: Columnists

James Carafano: America Works for veterans seeking jobs

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She had an honorable discharge ... and an eviction notice.

She also had marketable skills. In the Army, she had been a personnel management specialist. She could do event planning and outreach. She had all the makings of a top-notch employee. All she lacked was a job.

Dedicated to the proposition that veterans don't need a handout, just a hand up, America Works stands as a groundbreaking model for moving people from welfare to work. - James Jay Carafano

Luckily for her, America Works knows talent when they see it. When she went to them for help, they saw that she was a natural for working with others who had served in the armed forces. They gave her a job: helping put other people to work.

America Works is an American success story. Dedicated to the proposition that veterans don't need a handout, just a hand up, it stands as a groundbreaking model for moving people from welfare to work.

It began in 1984, when Peter Cove, a businessman and social entrepreneur, got tired of watching America spend billions of dollars on the war on poverty without making any discernible progress.

Cove believed that people working in communities could solve problems better than government handouts. He decided to start a for-profit company that would bring private-sector initiative to welfare reform.

Cove started with a simple proposition: Rather than pay people to live on welfare, pay America Works find them jobs. If Cove succeeded, he would get paid. If he didn't, he'd go broke. Nearly 40 years later, the organization is thriving ... and needed more than ever.

A large number of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wound up jobless and homeless. Today, more than 60,000 veterans sleep on stone pillows.

Many more have been unable to find regular work. That's particularly frustrating for men and women who have served their country honorably, because they know they have the skills, attitude and character that employers crave.

Cove recognized what was happening and decided to take on the challenge of serving those that served. America Works stood up two programs aimed specifically at helping veterans.

One initiative, conducted in concert with the U.S. Department of Labor, primarily serves veterans in the Washington area. America Works assesses their needs, gives them any training necessary, and collaborates with local organizations and employers to overcome any obstacles standing between a veteran and a job. If the job requires a uniform and work boots, for example, a check gets cut to make sure the vet is fitted out and ready to hit the work site.

Once the vet is in the workplace, America Works doesn't walk away. The company provides retention services -- not just to help keep veterans on the payroll, but to help them advance toward their personal career goals.

America Works also partners with the Veterans Administration to deliver job placement training that -- unlike most government programs -- actually leads to employment.

Together these two programs have placed 500 veterans in jobs in just the past three years. In the process, they've helped those vets become reintegrated into their communities.

The obvious question is: Given this kind of success, why don't more communities embrace the America Works model? Peter Cove struggles with that question all the time.

"In public policy, we should deduce our theory from practice," he wrote recently in the City Journal. However, he observed, those trying to help all too often "turn that principle upside down, proposing theories first and then basing programs on them."

All kinds of groups all over the country are making a real difference for our veterans. Community officials and regular, concerned citizens, should spend a little time learning from those who are making a difference -- and then start making a difference themselves.

Examiner Columnist James Jay Carafano is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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