Labor Department Defends Servicemembers, Honors Vets

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2006 - The men and women who serve in the armed forces are "the best and brightest our country has to offer," Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao said today.

At the Labor Department's Salute to Veterans ceremony, Chao said veterans' "patriotism, sense of duty, commitment and sacrifice make our freedom and way of life possible."

Those same traits make servicemembers ideal employees, she said.

Charles S. Ciccolella, assistant labor secretary for veterans' employment and training, said there's a myth that U.S. servicemembers choose the military because of limited employment opportunities. "I think you can look around and see that's absolutely flat wrong," he said. "Today's servicemembers are not only smart, they are well-educated. They are very highly motivated, and they are part of the best military this country has ever seen."

He said servicemembers are valued and revered by the American people, and that when they leave the military, employers seek them out. "They have the characteristics that matter the most: courage, honor, integrity, loyalty and leadership," Ciccolella said.

Chao said all Americans owe veterans a profound debt of gratitude and that her organization is proud to play a role "in helping these courageous men and women access the resources and services to succeed in the 21st century work force."

Chao spoke about the agency's role in regulating and enforcing the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. This legislation protects the rights of veterans returning to the private sector after active duty. New easy-to-read implementing regulations have cut the number of complaints under the act by 31 percent. Chao urged all servicemembers to learn their rights under this legislation.

Chao also spoke about the Veterans' Employment Training Service, which helps servicemembers transition to civilian jobs, and the Labor Department's HireVetsFirst campaign. "Next week, the department will hold the first-ever National Veterans Employment Summit in Norfolk, Va.," Chao said. "This one-day summit will bring together America's top employers and senior government officials."

In addition, the summit will feature a HireVetsFirst job fair with 65 companies participating.

"The men and women who serve in our armed forces make our freedom and way of life possible," Chao said. "Our country is free and a better and safer place because of them. We owe each of them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. They are there for us; we need to be there for them."

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