Local agencies can no longer recruit veterans at Mountain Home Air Force Base

By COLIN TIERNAN | The Times-News | Published: November 14, 2019

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (Tribune News Service) — Moving into civilian life after a long military career can be tough. Veterans often welcome all the assistance they can get in order to find a civilian job.

Federal changes to the Transition Assistance Program — primarily a training course for all service members leaving the military — could make it more difficult for some veterans to find work in the Magic Valley.

The changes come from the National Defense Authorization Act, which went into effect this year. The Department of Defense is now standardizing the program worldwide, to ensure that service members receive the same training no matter where they’re serving the U.S.

In south-central Idaho, the changes to the Transition Assistance Program effectively mean that veteran service providers won’t be able to connect directly to military members at Mountain Home Air Force Base, although that block might not be permanent.

Southern Idaho Economic Development Executive Director Connie Stopher has been visiting Mountain Home regularly since early 2018. She said that the changes to the program aren’t all negative, but noted that limiting opportunities for veterans to connect with employers could have negative consequences.

Recruiting veterans to south-central Idaho has been good for veterans and employers alike, Stopher said.

“In my opinion, it’s hurting those service members’ opportunities for connecting to resources after they leave the military,” she said. “It is a step back, I think, for some of those veterans.”

Stopher said she typically talked to between 30 and 60 service members a month at Mountain Home. She doesn’t know how many of those people moved to the Magic Valley because of her talks at the Air Force base, but there are some signs her visits might have had an impact.

In early 2018, there were seven Magic Valley companies employing veterans in Veterans Administration approved on-the-job training and apprenticeship programs, Stopher said. Now there are 13.

With unemployment low, many Magic Valley businesses have a hard time finding workers. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 200,000 service members leave the military every year. That’s a big pool for employers to recruit from, Stopher said.

“It’s good for the veteran, it’s good for the employer, it’s good for our communities,” she said.

At Mountain Home, Stopher said she told service members that the Magic Valley has lots of good, high-paying jobs, a high quality of life and a strong veteran network.

It’s not just Southern Idaho Economic Development that can’t get to the base anymore. Representatives from the Idaho Department of Labor Division of Veterans Services are also no longer able to meet with service members in person at the base.

Important resources

Veterans generally have higher unemployment rates than the general population, although right now that’s not the case. According to the U.S. Department of Labor veteran unemployment sat at 3.2% in October, compared with 3.5% for overall unemployment.

“They have a harder time getting into careers, even though they’re highly skilled,” Stopher said.

Until now, Stopher had been able to help veterans by submitting their resumes directly to employers. She could make personal introductions as well.

“Veterans have been hired just by me sending out their resume to employers,” Stopher said.

Robert Smith is a veteran and works as a service officer for the Idaho Department of Labor Division of Veteran Services in south-central Idaho. His work doesn’t have much to do with the Transition Assistance Program specifically, but he noted personal connections and direct assistance with applications can be invaluable for veterans transitioning to civilian life.

“It’s crucial,” Smith said. “It takes a lot of the leg work, the pressure, away from the veteran if you have somebody advocating for you.”

Veterans typically make better employees than nonveterans, which makes them especially desirable to employers.

“They’re already trained and highly skilled in a lot of areas,” Stopher said. “They also have what a lot of employers call ‘soft skills.’ They show up on time. They’re responsible. They’re going to be dressed appropriately for work, they work well in teams and respond well to authority.”

Stopher hopes to be back on base in some capacity by the start of the next year, depending on what new rules the military comes up with. The Air Force base was closed Monday and did not answer questions about the program on Tuesday.

In the meantime, Stopher hasn’t been to Mountain Home since September and says the visits are one of the best parts of her job.

“We are working on finding a way to get back,” she said. “Our hope is that ... they’ll be able to find a reasonable accommodation so we can still come on base.”

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