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This Veterans Day, as we honor and express our gratitude to the men and women who so valiantly served our nation in uniform, I want us to take a moment and think about the battle so many of our returning heroes face — how to make the transition to the next chapter of their lives.

I’m thinking about veterans like Christopher, who after being deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during his decade of service in the Air Force went from job to job, doing work that did not satisfy him.

Or Georgia, a disabled combat veteran whose work as a water purification and distribution specialist during Desert Shield/Desert Storm did not, she said, translate very well in the civilian sector.

Or Julien, a Purple Heart recipient who was a field radio operator in the Marine Corps. When he left the military, his challenge was to balance going to school full time and working full time.

Veterans like these were on President Barack Obama’s mind when he issued Executive Order 13518 to honor our obligations to our nation’s returning servicemembers and establish a federal employment initiative to encourage more veterans to join the federal service.

A look at the numbers shows we’re delivering on his objective. When the president issued his order on Nov. 9, 2009, the percentage of new veterans hired into the federal government was 24 percent. At the end of fiscal year 2015, that percentage was 32.5 percent. Since FY 2009, the federal government has hired more than half a million veterans in 24 different agencies.

But the numbers don’t begin to tell the whole story or speak to why the president and I believe it’s critical for the government to recruit talented, qualified and dedicated veterans for the federal workforce. Not only is hiring veterans the right thing to do, it makes good business sense. The skills, leadership and discipline veterans bring to federal workplaces across the nation are essential to our ability to meet our mission to serve the American people. Our collective challenge was and remains to understand and capitalize on the strengths that these veterans can bring to federal service, and to help connect them with agencies across the government that need these skills.

Each year the federal government spends millions of dollars training servicemembers like Christopher, Georgia and Julien to meet many and varied challenges. When servicemembers are ready to transition to civilian life, we can maximize our investments in their training by encouraging them to continue serving their country as civilian federal employees.

As part of the president’s veterans initiative, we created the one-stop website for Federal employment — FedsHireVets.gov — where veterans and their families can get information and resources to help them find employment opportunities. Veteran Employment Program offices are in place in 24 agencies and the website provides information on how veterans can connect with these offices to learn about career opportunities and about how to navigate the federal employment process.

The executive order also established the President’s Council on Veterans Employment, which has tackled such issues as helping agencies find ways to retain the talented veterans they hire. The council also looked at how to maximize opportunities for female veterans to join the federal service.

But the real success stories come from veterans themselves.

After trying out different jobs, Christopher became a volunteer, then an intern with the National Park Service. He says he is now “living my dream” as a park ranger in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in California.

Georgia now works for the Bureau of Land Management as an outdoor recreation planner and says the best part of her job is that she knows that what she does “makes a difference.”

And Julien now has a bachelor’s of science in business administration, is working at the Department of Labor and says: “I could not be more thrilled about the next stage of my career in the federal government.”

Even as we celebrate this progress and the success stories of these talented veterans, we must rededicate ourselves to helping more veterans and help agencies recruit, train and retain these talented employees.

And on this Veterans Day, I want to thank the women and men who made the choice to serve their fellow Americans — first in uniform and now as part of the 2-million-strong federal workforce.

Beth Cobert is acting director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.


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