If the first bill proposed by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) since he took office January 3 becomes law, it will help veterans enter the workforce and assist the employers who hire them.
Schneider and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) introduced the GI Internship Program Act January 31 in the House of Representatives in Washington adding an on the job training component to the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Deerfield) meets with a former member of the armed forces on Veterans Day.
Rather than receive college tuition, some veterans using the GI bill can take advantage of this law to receive a stipend while getting on the job training in manufacturing or some other pursuit, according to Schneider. The payment enables the employer to pay less during the learning period. It is designed to last from six months to a year.
“The GI who is about to come into the workforce can earn a living wage and the employer can offset the cost of hiring and training'” said Schneider. “It’s a win win.”
Representatives of both the North Shore business and veterans’ communities said the idea is appealing. Joanna Rolek, the executive director of the Lake Forest Lake Bluff Chamber of Commerce said she has been working with local businesses to see the benefits of hiring veterans.
“I’m 100 percent for this,” said Rolek. “We’re actively trying to get our members to network with veterans groups to see how we can be of help. Turning attention to this constituency has very positive implications for those in the civilian world, offering opportunities to support both workforce and economic development.”
Paul Baffico, a Lake Bluff resident who founded and runs the Grayslake-based Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation, said he also supports the proposed legislation. The organization connects veterans with each other and helps them get the benefits they have earned and deserve.
“This will give veterans who are qualified under the GI Bill an additional opportunity to develop their career expectations,” said Baffico. "Veteran Peer Support Specialist Charlie Schletz who works for our Foundation is working with Congressman Schneider and his staff on this opportunity as well as our combined task force seeking common ground for employers and Veterans. In addition to working for LCVFSF, Schletz is a Post 9-11 combat Marine and current student at DePaul.
There are approximately 200,000 service members returning to civilian life each year since September 11, 2001, according to Rolek. She said the constituency is expected to reach 3.5 million by 2025.
As veterans are getting ready to leave the service they get counseling about their transition back into civilian life, according to Schneider. He said if his proposed bill becomes law, the service members will be told about the on the job training benefit.
“Some of these vets joined because the military because they did not enjoy the classroom,” said Schneider. “This will give them an opportunity other than going to school. It will give them on the job training.”
Once learning of the benefit, the vets must find a place to use it. That is where people like Baffico and Rolek come into the picture. She said the transition is not easy for the veteran returning to civilian life. She also said they bring special traits from their time in the military.
“The ‘new’ veteran community is often up against the challenges of assimilation back into the civilian workforce – they have suspended their civilian lives to serve,” said Rolek. “But what they bring back out to the civilian world are great assets for us all – leadership qualities, strategic mindset and goal orientation.”
Schneider said when the vets get the chance to talk to the appropriate potential bosses they will start to learn how to sell their skills in the non military world. He said he spoke to a former soldier who was not sure how to transition. The soldier told Schneider his job in the service was maintaining movable artillery.
“I explained how what he did was similar to manufacturing,” said Schneider. “He was working with gears. I explained how it was the same skill you need in manufacturing.”
The bill is ready to work its way through the House and, hopefully, the Senate, according to Schneider. He said he and Yoho will work with their colleagues to see it goes through committee. Schneider said he met Yoho four years ago when they were freshmen together. He said this was a natural bill for them to sponsor together.
Paul Baffico talks to visitors at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.