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Mayor Filner Sets Course For Veterans Jobs

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is no shrinking violet when it comes to pushing for veterans.

As chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs from 2007 to 2011, then-congressman Filner cajoled and convinced fellow lawmakers into passing the largest budgets the Department of Veterans Affairs had ever seen.

Aired 1/28/13 on KPBS News.

Mayor Bob Filner outlines push for getting jobs for San Diego veterans.

Later as the committee’s ranking member, he gained a reputation for unsparing attacks on Department of Veterans Affairs officials he viewed as not toeing the line for veterans.

As a San Diego mayoral candidate, Bob Filner spoke passionately of the need if not obligation he believed the country owed those who went to war and fought on its behalf.

Now as mayor, Bob Filner is pledging to use the power of the bully pulpit - and a nascent veterans employment office - to convince San Diego businesses that hiring veterans is the right thing to do.

“We are establishing a veterans’ employment office in the mayor’s office to work directly with veterans and employers,” said Filner.

He hopes to fill that position shortly and said the person would come from the San Diego veterans’ community.

“One of the first things I am going to do is say what responsibility are you going to take over the next year, next two years, next three years?" Filner asked. "How many are you going to hire. I want a commitment.”

Filner plans to gather San Diego’s top business leaders this spring for a Veterans Jobs Summit. He is adamant that he and CEOs – not human resources representatives – meet to figure out how to find veterans actual jobs.

The push is not about theoretically how to find vets employment, or what a hiring framework might look like. It's naming hard numbers and firm start dates, the mayor said.

Filner's goal: To find, perhaps, a 1,000 veterans jobs by the end of the year, although he’d take “something in the hundreds.”

Such a step would likely strike a hopeful chord in local Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

Of the roughly 30,000 veterans living in and around San Diego – one of the largest (if not the largest) such population in the nation – many are struggling.

Among veterans in the 18 to 34 age group, about one-third are unemployed. And Filner said that 70 percent attending school on the GI Bill are quitting classes in their first year.

“In San Diego, a military town, we should not have to say that we have 30 percent of our veterans unemployed,” Filner said.

Filner named Qualcomm and large defense contractors as corporations he would like to see pony up with some jobs.

But he does not expect them to go it alone. He said the jobs push would see support from the VA San Diego Healthcare System, so that businesses and employees would have the resources they need to succeed.

But there might be an additional way to find jobs for estimated these veterans in and around San Diego.

Maurice Wilson is co-founder of San Diego-based National Veterans Transition Services, Inc., which prepares vets for civilian employment.

“I think our approach should be in addition to trying to fill, one, two, three jobs at a time, to take more of an industry approach to it.” Wilson said. “Looking at things like the agriculture industry or for example the maritime industry.

Regardless of how it’s done, Filner said creating jobs for veterans must get done. The consequences of failing are too great.

“If we don’t do this right, we have a repeat of what occurred, the tragedy really, of the Vietnam Era vets. That is a disproportionate share of homeless of suicide, of unemployment, of mental illness.

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