Resources for veterans
Local organizations provide options for those who’ve served
Nearly 2.8 million Americans have served in the armed forces since 9/11—but what happens to vets after they hang up the uniform? The exact number of vets who return to the Rochester area is not recorded, but for those who do return, they find jobs and continue to lead productive lives.
Pat DiLaura, chief talent officer at Klein Steel in Rochester, takes pride in the fact that veterans make up twenty percent of his workforce. “We want to be the employer of choice for vets,” DiLaura says. “And, we do that not just by running ads or attending job fairs. Klein Steel invests itself in the community, advocates veteran causes, and contributes to efforts such as the Rochester Regional Veterans Business Council.” Some vets, like Brandon Cross, worked at a variety of companies before finding the right fit. “My current job is with Federal Express,” Cross says. “I plan on staying with FedEx until I retire.”
Things like company values, leadership, and benefits have meaning for vets. Others return to pursue college through the Yellow Ribbon Program. There are approximately 2,000 vets enrolled in local colleges (Monroe Community College leads with more than 900 student vets). Another good resource is the “One Team, One Fight” website. This effort is actually a group of veteran service organizations, colleges, and businesses focused on veteran reintegration. “At 1T1F, we meet once a month to coordinate and to do a better job of reaching vets,” says Todd Baxter, executive director of the Veterans Outreach Center on South Ave. The VOC has become something of a Rochester institution in itself. Forty years ago, a group of Vietnam vets established the Veterans Outreach Center, and it became a place for vets to connect and be heard. Today, the VOC manages a technology center, counseling, veteran family support services, and shelter for homeless vets. (It also operates an office in Buffalo.) All programs are free to vets and their family members. “We’re reaching across NewYork in helping vets and their families,” says Jocene Henderson, a youthful, retired Army sergeant major who has worked at the VOC since 2008.
The tech center offers twenty-five classes ranging from blueprint reading to OSHA forklift certification. Its state-of-the-art computer lab seats up to fifteen, and all classes help develop marketable skills. The VOC recently collaborated with the Institute of Veterans and Military Families in accrediting other family support programs in the state. The result: $26 million of federal grant money—triple the amount of last year’s grant—for aiding needy veteran families. “Our accreditation program is good stewardship of taxpayer dollars,” notes Henderson, who is also the VOC’s program manager for community-based technical assistance. Like a true noncommissioned officer, she knows and enforces the regulations to accomplish the mission but will always take time to listen to a vet.
Though his staff interacts with approximately 1,000 vets per year, Baxter wants to do more. He just received approval in partnership with the city of Rochester to administer the Civil Service exam at Fort Drum to troops interested in law enforcement. “It takes two years to hire a police officer,” Baxter says. “Taking the exam at Fort Drum will reduce the processing time and give transitioning soldiers direction.”
This consortium of veteran service organizations, schools, businesses, and government agencies that have banded together in Rochester is exceptional—and reassures vets someone cares about their return home.
Tim Hansen is a Rochester-area freelancer and veteran with four overseas deployments.