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Officials unveil employment initiative for wounded vets

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by Army Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service

10/6/2004 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Injured servicemembers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan will get individualized job training, counseling and re-employment services, Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said Oct. 4.

During a signing ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center here, Ms. Chao joined Army Maj. Gen. Kenneth Farmer Jr., commanding general at the Army hospital, and Navy Rear Adm. Adam M. Robinson, commanding officer of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to kick off the first phase of Recovery and Employment Assistance Lifelines. REALifelines is a joint commitment by the Department of Labor, the military medical community and local agencies.

Labor Department officials are investing $500,000 into the first phase of the program, which will create a team of on-site counselors at both medical facilities to help wounded veterans in their transition back into the private sector.

REALifeline counselors will help servicemembers identify barriers to employment and set up individual recovery and re-employment plans, Ms. Chao said.

"They are going to help each person discover his or her personal interest and unique talent," she said. "And they will help each veteran find the right career path to his or her special need."

She emphasized that "personalized care" will be a priority of the program.

"If you have been wounded or injured serving this nation, real people are going to meet you face to face with the personalized help that you may need to recover and to succeed in a career that you love," Ms. Chao said.

The program will also provide a national tracking system to ensure follow-up services and link servicemembers with local professionals able to support their recovery and re-employment through a range of services.

In addition, she said, a national call center will soon be available to answer questions and offer employment guidance to wounded veterans.

As part of the program, wounded veterans and their spouses also will be able to take advantage of services offered at more than 3,500 one-stop career centers the Department of Labor has set up nationwide.

"This administration is committed to ensuring that our nation's wounded veterans are treated with the respect and honor that they deserve," Ms. Chao told an audience of current and former Soldiers.

The secretary spent some time at a military hospital's physical-therapy ward, where she met with wounded servicemembers and their families.

She said the time spent was "rewarding" and called the servicemembers "some of the most inspiring and outstanding young men and women that I have ever met.

"And I'm so proud of them," she said.

Ms. Chao, who visited troops in Iraq earlier this year, said the country owes a "tremendous debt of gratitude not only to wounded veterans, but to all the brave men and women who have defended our nation in the global war on terrorism with such honor and with such valor."

The Oct. 4 signing was not the first time the Department of Labor has reached out to support servicemembers.

On Sept. 27, the secretary signed a memorandum of understanding with the Justice Department ensuring the employment rights of returning servicemembers are protected under guidelines of the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994.

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