Corporations Look for Ways to Hire Vets in Large Numbers

By Hermon Negash

The Razorback Reporter

Because employment for veterans is one aspect of the sometimes difficult transition from military life to civilian life, companies and programs try to help veterans find jobs.

The unemployment rate among veterans in the United States was about 4.6 percent in 2016 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Veterans face problems when looking for employment after overseas tours; among them, lacking skills necessary in the civilian workforce. The skills they possess are not easily translated on resumés.

“I can’t put on a resumé that I can assault an enemy fortification or that I can lead a squad of 12 and take as much territory as I want and hold it for as long as I want. That doesn’t work in a resumé,” Starbucks manager and Marine veteran Justin Zaelke said in an online interview on the company website.

Erika Gamboa, director of the UA Veterans Resource and Information Center, and the federal program VetSuccess on Campus try to help solve those problems.

The program, which was created under President Barack Obama’s administration, focuses on job training.

“The goal is that their training leads them to a job. They don’t place them, but they help them get the skills,” Gamboa said.

VetSuccess helps veterans decide which path they will take on their road to employment. Whether it is on-the-job training, attending vocational schools or a four-year institution, the VetSuccess helps veterans acquire the necessary skills to be qualified in their field of choice.

VetSuccess does not place veterans in jobs, veterans have to do some digging to find them. Companies and businesses across the country are poised to help. Walmart announced a plan in 2013 to hire 100,000 veterans by 2018 and expanded it in 2015 to 250,000 veterans by 2020. Tyson Foods has a “Camo to Khaki” program which highlights their commitment to hiring veterans.

Starbucks set a goal to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018 and already has reached that goal, according to the website. Company executives set a new goal to hire an additional 15,000 by 2025.

In addition to veterans, Starbucks has vowed to hire at-risk youth and refugees. Because the Starbucks on the UA campus is a licensed store, meaning it is not independent and usually operates within another entity when opened within a school or a mall, the campus Starbucks does not participate in a lot of programs. Peter Loibner is a Licensed Stores district manager and is based in Little Rock. Although he deals with stores that usually don’t participate in those types of programs, he said he is proud of his company’s missions.

“I love working for a company that recognizes the best and brightest in a diverse fashion,” Loibner said.

The Starbucks on Wedington Drive in Fayetteville is not a licensed store so the location participates in initiatives that company executives plan. Ashlei Carry is the manager of the Wedington location and is an Army spouse. Carry started out as a part-time barista in April 2013 before moving to Fayetteville with her husband.

Student Veterans Group Having Trouble Gaining Traction

Kayla Nunez 

The Razorback Reporter

The U of A has more than 403 registered student organizations and an estimated 50 percent of students are members of an RSO, but the organizers of Student Veterans are having trouble gaining traction for their group.    

Student Veterans has been an RSO on the U of A campus since 2008 and is a chapter of Student Veterans of America. The group helps veterans attending the U of A adjust to civilian life and find others who have been through similar experiences.

While the chapter has been around for nine years, it still struggles to draw in new recruits. 

“It’s hard to rally those troops,” said Derrick Calhoun, President of Student Veterans.

The group presented an ice cream social in the spring, but it didn’t draw many people.  Calhoun said the weather wasn’t quite warm enough yet for ice cream.   

“We supplement what the university does with fun stuff,” Calhoun said, but Student Veterans has to choose carefully what they spend their money on, which is one reason it’s hard to bring in new people.   

Amber Widdowson, Assistant Director for Registered Student Organizations, said that RSOs get their money from the student activities fee. 

“We’ve thought about making flyers, passing out pencils and stuff like that,” Calhoun said, “but then it comes back to lack of funding.  We have currently $97 in our bank account.” 

Spreading the word about Student Veterans and getting more of them actively involved in the RSO was the group’s 2016-2017 mission, Calhoun said, but only about 10 more people were added as members.

Calhoun said Student Veterans has about 100 members but not all of those members are active. 

As of 2016, there were 1,382 self-identified military affiliated students at the U of A.

The Veterans Resource and Information Center sends veterans to the RSO when they come in, but many vets don’t know about VRIC, Calhoun said. 

Calhoun said he wishes the university would do something like send an e-mail about the VRIC to veterans after they register to attend.  He said he didn’t even know about VRIC for a while.

“I just kind of stumbled across it,” Calhoun said, “I eventually found it on my own.”

Despite the name Student Veterans, the RSO isn’t just for vets. 

Buster McCall, Associate Director of VRIC, said joining Student Veterans is a good way to serve veterans for those who aren’t in the military. 

“We have a good one (RSO) that is open for everyone,” said McCall.  “We’re looking for energy in that organization.” 

UA Staff Provide Resources for Student Veterans

By Chase Reavis

The Razorback Reporter

UA student veterans receive benefits and accommodations including financial aid and prolonged time on tests from on-campus facilities.

The Veterans Resource and Information Center, VRIC, staff work with students and their dependents on a variety of college success factors, director Erika Gamboa said. Among these factors are college preparedness, financial aid, scholarships, registration and admission.

VRIC provides information for student veterans and sometimes refers students elsewhere on campus for further assistance, Gamboa said.

“We work with different departments across campus,” she said. “We have partnerships to make sure that the students have everything they need in order to be admitted, be enrolled and graduate.”

VRIC also informs students of career opportunities, because the goal is not for students to “just graduate, but also have a plan afterwards, like a career,” Gamboa said.

One avenue for opportunity is the Sam M. Walton College of Business, specifically Meredith Adkins, director for corporate relations and outreach.

Adkins receives releases from corporations – including Amazon – that are seeking veterans for employment and forwards them onto Gamboa to give student veterans the opportunities, Adkins said.

Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and J.B. Hunt Transport Services are listed on VRIC’s page on the UA website as veteran-seeking employers, in addition to organizations such as Hire Heroes USA, Show Your Stripes and Goodwill Industries. Hire Heroes USA provides employment workshops, career coaching and job sourcing for veterans, and their work has resulted in the employment of over 18,000 veterans, according to their website.

Adkins works closely with Gamboa to be sure that student veterans get the opportunities meant for them, Adkins said.

From Oct. 23 to Oct. 27, the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity will work with Walton College to present diversity week, Adkins said. The event is “to celebrate diversity and inclusion in the workplace” and veterans are “specifically reached out to as part of that event.”

Beyond campus support for student veterans, staff members also refer student veterans to the Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks, especially for mental health concerns, Gamboa said.

Student veterans can request accommodations during tests and classes, such as extended time, transcribers and note-takers, but those accommodations must be approved by the UA Center for Educational Access after a meeting and documentation, said Laura James, Associate Director of Student Access for the Center for Educational Access.

“Circumstances and disability-related barriers vary based upon the individual, (so) there are not specific accommodations that students who are currently serving in the military or are veterans typically request,” James said.

The case-by-case nature of CEA’s offered accommodations means that not all student veterans can be assumed to be afforded the same accommodations.

In addition to helping student veterans with general college success, VRIC also works to make sure student veterans who need accommodation receive that accommodation.

“Our purpose is to help these students graduate – all the ones who come through our door,” Gamboa said.

UA Nursing Department Prepares Students to Enter VA

By Katie Serrano

The Razorback Reporter

The University of Arkansas School of Nursing is preparing their graduate students to find the right hospital to work at after a strike at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Little Rock raised concerns about working conditions in June.

Susan Patton, interim director of the Eleanor Mann School of Nursing, said she had “mixed feelings” about the strike that lasted a week in Little Rock.

“Nurses’ primary job is to take care of their patients,” Patton said. “But if they feel that their working conditions are affecting the way that they care for those patients, they also have an ethical responsibility to speak up about it.”

There were approximately 50,000 job vacancies throughout the VA in April 2017, according to data released by the VA.

After the strike, the hospital responded by implementing a plan to recruit more nurses, start a bonus program for experienced medical and surgical Registered Nurses, and lowering the bed capacity in order to protect and enhance patient care, according to the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.

“Here in Fayetteville the nurse-to-patient ratios are well balanced at the VA hospital,” Patton said. “I notice significant differences between the environment at VA hospitals compared to other local hospitals. When our students go through their clinical rotations, I like to visit the VA last because the nurses are typically in a good mood. They are taking care of veterans, who are very service oriented people, and some of the most appreciative patients you can work with.”

One incentive for Arkansas nurses is the VALOR program, which stands for VA Learning Opportunities Residency.

“The VA hires students while they are in school and gives them special training, as well as pay,” Patton said.

Pay also has been an increasing issue for Arkansas Registered Nurses. The annual mean wage of registered nurses in 2016 in Arkansas was $57,630 compared to the national mean annual wage of $72,180, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, “pay isn’t always the most important thing,” Patton said.

“We tell our students to pick hospitals based on the support system they will be offered,” Patton said. “Although the pay at VA Hospitals may not be the highest, I have seen that taking care of veterans results in the happiest nurses.

Arkansas nursing students also are required to research and apply for jobs themselves while they are students. They must take into account several factors that make it a desirable place to work, such as turnover rates and cost of living.

Arkansas is in the top regional percentile of states with the highest turnover rate, which is the percentage of employees in a workforce that leave during a certain period of time, for Registered Nurses, according to Nursing Solutions Inc.

Although Little Rock nurses went on strike, their pay is approximately 10 percent higher than nurses in Northwest Arkansas, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I think this helps prove that the environment is ultimately the most important factor for a nurse,” Patton said.

Patton encourages students, nursing or not, to talk to military recruiters even if it’s something they’ve never considered.

“VA hospitals give special preference to veteran nurses,” Patton said. “Not only do they offer incredible financial support, but from my personal experience, veterans make the best nurses because they are working with the newest technology, and can relate the best to the people they are helping.”

Fayetteville Takes Steps to Control Veteran Homelessness

By Erin McGuinness

The Razorback Reporter

Fayetteville is taking steps to permanently control, or end, homelessness among veterans in the city, a feat that Mayor Lioneld Jordan said in 2014 he thought could be achieved by 2015.

That goal was an outgrowth of President Barack Obama’s goal to end homelessness among veterans. In “Opening Doors,” cities throughout the country were asked to join the effort to end homelessness among veterans by 2015, a challenge that Jordan accepted.

While the administration did not meet the goal, the number of homeless veterans nationally steadily declined by 47 percent between 2010 and 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. But in northwest Arkansas, the number of homeless veterans increased, according to data collected by Kevin Fitzpatrick, UA sociology professor and Community and Family Institute director. 

Brian McAnally, Health Care for Homeless Veterans manager, works with homeless veterans throughout northwest Arkansas. 

“The VA has poured lots of resources into our area because we are one of the only areas where the homelessness is actually growing,” McAnally said, citing the growth in northwest Arkansas economy and the highly regarded VA hospital in Fayetteville as attractive to veterans. 

There are approximately 195 homeless veterans in Fayetteville, including those in permanent housing, Fitzpatrick said. Approximately 60 are without housing services, living in emergency shelters, the woods, with friends and in other temporary situations. 

The city’s goal is to reach functional zero, the point when more housing units are secured than the number of homeless veterans in need, said Yolanda Fields, Community Resources director for Fayetteville.

Fields runs the city’s Hearth program, a service that aims to provide transitional or permanent housing for the homeless in Fayetteville. 

“Once you have more units on an average than you have homeless, you have reached functional zero because you can house everybody that is homeless,” Fields said. “Ending homelessness,” is something that is not achievable, she said.

Once the goal is reached, people who become homeless, or homeless people who move to the area, can be housed, she said. 

The city is working with the Center for Community Care to list all of the homeless persons in Fayetteville, their needs and how they can be helped. The platform is called Hark and serves two purposes – as a data base and as a hub for homeless people and others to find service providers including healthcare and shelter.

The Center for Community Care began in September 2016, said Ben Cashion, director of content and training for Hark at the Center for Community Care. The organization was approached by the Continuum of Care in November about a need for a list of homeless people in northwest Arkansas. Through this, multiple homeless shelters in the area that often serve the same homeless people can coordinate their data, and the number of homeless people can be tracked. The data is being collected and should be available in less than a year, Cashion said. 

When the mayor joined the effort to end veteran homelessness in Fayetteville by 2015, “the goal for collaborating with area service and resource agencies to raise awareness and come up with a plan was an attainable goal,” Donnie Osborn, assistant to the mayor said via email.  

Fields hopes Fayetteville can reach functional zero among veterans by the end of the year, she said.