Governor McAuliffe on why Virginia continues to be best place for veterans to find careers and raise their families

Last Friday we celebrated Veterans Day. I was honored to take part in a ceremony recognizing the service and sacrifice of the brave men and women who have answered the call of duty to defend the freedoms we enjoy each and every day. However, it is important to remember that our commitment and responsibility to those who serve goes far deeper than one day of gratitude a year. Here in Virginia, we are working every single day to make this Commonwealth the best place on earth for veterans to live, work and raise a family.

Nearly 800,000 veterans have chosen to call Virginia their home. The Commonwealth has the fastest growing veteran population in the nation as well as the most active veteran labor force, with the greatest number of veterans in the workforce per capita. It’s no coincidence that former service members choose Virginia as the place to settle when they have finished their service, because we are committed to providing them with the best opportunities to pursue an education, find a career, and start a family.

When we took office in 2014, Secretary of Veterans and Defense Affairs John Harvey and I agreed on the need to take Virginia’s veterans-support infrastructure to the next level. Secretary Harvey and Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services John Newby got right to work, strengthening and expanding the resources and support that this Commonwealth offers to veterans and their families. I am proud to say those efforts are paying off.

Veterans bring a wide array of knowledge, skills, and abilities that translate to nearly every occupation and industry in the Commonwealth. We have worked to create an infrastructure in our higher education system that translates the skills our men and women obtained in uniform into academic credits and workforce credentials, so they can hit the ground running on a new post-service career.

Last year, I signed legislation requiring the State Board for Community Colleges to develop a policy to award academic credit for military training. This year we created the Military Medics and Corpsmen Program, a first-of-its-kind initiative that helps veterans with medical training enter the civilian health care workforce more quickly.

Connecting veterans with skills training and credentials are big steps towards a successful transition to civilian life, but we must also ensure that they have job opportunities to put those skills to work. Virginia is home to an innovative initiative called the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Program, which trains employers how to best recruit, hire, and retain veterans. I challenged the V3 Program in 2014 to get 10,000 veterans hired by the end of my term. That was double the number of veteran hires through the program at the time. The V3 team met that goal 900 days ahead of schedule. But we weren’t done there, as I again challenged the V3 team to reach 20,000 veterans by the end of my term in January 2018. Two weeks ago, I was proud to announce that the V3 reached the 20,000 benchmark over 400 days ahead of schedule. And, in case you haven’t figured it out, we’re not going to stop there — I want them to keep this pace up for the remainder of our term and beyond.

While I’m proud of the steps we have made to help service members start their civilian lives, the success we’ve experienced helping veterans facing major challenges has been one of the most rewarding accomplishments of my term. Last Veterans Day I was honored to announce that, thanks to a significant focus on rapid rehousing and other support programs, Virginia became the first state in the nation to functionally end veteran homelessness. Since that day, we have placed another 948 veterans in permanent housing. In total, since October 2014, 2,479 veterans experiencing homelessness have successfully moved into permanent housing as part of our effort to keep veteran homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring here in Virginia.

This year we also worked with the General Assembly to secure funds for the construction of two new veterans care centers in Virginia Beach and in Fauquier County. The construction is slated to begin in 2017 and be completed in late 2019.

These two state-of-the-art facilities will provide top-notch long-term skilled nursing care, Alzheimer’s and dementia care, and short-term rehabilitative care to Virginia veterans. The facilities will complement the existing Sitter & Barfoot Veterans Care Center in Richmond and the Virginia Veterans Care Center in Roanoke, bringing accessible long term care to veterans and their families to each region within the state.

As the son of World War Two veteran and the father of an officer in the Marine Corps, this is a deeply personal issue for my family and me. I am so proud of the achievements that make our Commonwealth the most veteran-friendly place to work in the United States. But we know that the hardest part of this job is sustaining and even growing this foundation. Our success is based on leadership, resources, tenacity, and best practices driven by data. We must continue to ensure Virginia provides the highest quality of life for our service members, veterans, and their families.