Klein ‘Thoughtraiser” on vet employment

They served their nation, now it’s the nation’s turn to serve them.

But veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are finding it just as tough – or tougher – to return to the job market.

Senator Jeff Klein offered a tentative helping hand recently, holding a roundtable for veterans’ advocates and employers, focusing on finding returning vets jobs.

“Today, we were able to bring together veterans and business owners to discuss one of the most important issues facing veterans today,” Klein said. “It’s not easy for anyone to find a job in this economy, but we owe it to our veterans to make their search a little less burdensome.”

Klein’s May 29 roundtable at the Pelham Bay Diner was part of his “Thoughtraiser” series begun early this year to generate ideas for new legislation and initiatives without hiring expensive consultants.

Among those at the roundtable were representatives from organizations providing job placement and career services like Jericho Project and Fedcap; representatives of local American Legion posts including Leonard Hawkins Post #156 on City Island, Theodore Korony Post #253 in Throggs Neck, and Samuel Young Post #620 in Pelham Bay.

Also, Lenny Caro, president and CEO of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce; Nicholas Daragona, co-owner of a local beverage company – Bronx Pop, and Jeremy Warneke, district manager of Community Board 11 and an Iraq War veteran.

Local veteran advocate Patrick Devine, chairman of the New York City Veterans Council, suggested creating a database by zip code with the names of returning veterans. Klein called it an excellent idea.

Some, like Caro favor a traditional job fair, like the one the Bronx Chamber will be hosting at the Hutchinson Metro Center from noon to 5 p.m. next Thursday, in conjunction with the state Department of Labor.

“One of the things that I think are lacking is that when veterans come back they don’t get the recognition and respect they deserve,” Caro said. “We need to know when they are coming back and then reach out to them. We can host a veterans job fair at the Hutch Metro Center.”

Using social media like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube is also a good idea to make veterans aware of open positions and cyber job fairs, said Tim Hendrickson, Fedcap’s director of veterans services.

“The youth of today are tapped into social media, and when you are overseas, social media, or at the very least e-mail,is the only way to stay a part of the fabric of American life,” Hendrickson said. “We can convert the traditional job fair for veterans into a virtual job fair and reach tens of thousands of people. That is the way of the future.”

Fedcap employees veterans and other people who have impediments to finding work.

Bronx Pop, a soda distribution company, believes that its commission-based routes are perfect for returning veterans who have the discipline to start work at 5 a.m., said co-owner Daragona.

“The veterans have a sense of discipline that is needed to run the route, something the average person often doesn’t have,” Daragona said. “The advantage we are offering is to build a beverage route, which has monetary value. A really good person who gets involved has the opportunity for management, and to build a team. Bronx Pop is a new company, so the sky’s the limit.”