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How to truly honor Veterans Day? Give them more jobs.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010; 12:17 AM

Tuesday was a good day for veterans at the Office of Personnel Management.

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With military personnel on hand to witness a ceremonial ribbon-cutting, OPM opened a Veterans Employment Program Office. It is designed to facilitate hiring vets not only at OPM but throughout the government.

Yet even with all the totally justifiable attention given vets in advance of Thursday's holiday, it was hard to ignore headlines about the legalized discrimination that prevents many Americans from becoming vets because they are gay.

"White House reiterates support for repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell,' " said The Washington Post. "Repeal of Policy on Gay Service Faces Struggle," the New York Times reported.

But the denial of human rights for some shouldn't stop services Uncle Sam appropriately provides to those he approves of, that is, straight people.

So John Berry, the OPM director who so enthusiastically works for veterans even while the law says no to openly gay people like him, began the program with a simple chant: "Hire more vets!"

Wreath-laying ceremonies are important. Parades are fun. And who doesn't want a day off? All that's good, but one concrete thing Sam can do to honor veterans is help them get work, particularly in the federal government.

"I think this administration has done an exceptional job of realizing that the lack of employment for veterans should be an embarrassment for our country," said Ray Kelley, Veterans of Foreign Wars' legislative director, although he added that more needs to be done.

The employment of veterans ranges widely among federal agencies. As might be expected, the Defense Department does best, with vets making up 41 percent of its civilian workforce. With only 6.3 percent, Health and Human Services should be embarrassed as it comes in last among the executive departments. The little National Science Foundation is even worse: 5.6 percent.

An NSF spokeswoman said its "positions routinely require a Ph.D. and at least six years of research experience." Anecdotal evidence, she added, indicates that vets aren't highly represented in that group. Nonetheless, she said, NSF is working hard to improve.

Yet compared with the national workforce, employment figures for veterans don't look so bad. The unemployment rate for veterans is 8.3 percent - not good, but better than the nation's 9.6 percent rate.

At the new employment office, veterans can search for work using the government's online database, learn to write resumes and work with job counselors.


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