Johnson, Boswell among legislators discussing jobs program for veterans and their families

November 11, 2023 | 12:07 am

Updated November 10, 2023 | 11:20 am

DJ Johnson | Fil photo by LRC Public Information

Life presents many challenges for service members and their families – including when they seek employment after leaving the military. The Kentucky Veterans Accelerated Licensure Occupational Recruitment (VALOR) program exists to help them.

This week, the Interim Joint Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs, and Public Protection heard from Molly Bode, the nonprofit’s executive director, and Terry Samuel, president of the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp.

Bode said Kentucky was one of three states to receive a 4-year grant in 2018 from the U.S. Department of Labor. The VALOR team has used the funds to help veterans obtain professional licenses based on their education and experiences in the military.

For example, prior to the program, an Army medic coming out of the military would have to completely start over with civilian training to receive an EMT license. Now, that same medic can receive credit toward that license thanks to their training in the military, Bode said.

The federal grant ended in June 2022. However, it helped create more than 44 accelerated pathways that cover 55 levels of licensure and span over 180 different military occupational specialties, she said.

Bode said she has since met with Rep. DJ Johnson, R-Owensboro, who saw the opportunity to capitalize on the federal investment to benefit Kentucky’s workforce.

Johnson encouraged those in the committee meeting room to let others know about the program. He mentioned the efforts to improve compacts between states to recognize professional training.

“We’re not just looking at soldiers, we’re looking at families,” he said.

Johnson asked Bode if veterans who have been out of military service for “a while” can utilize the program. Bode said this is possible, and she pointed out that some pathways to obtain licensure have caps on graduation within the last 6-10 years to be relevant.

“We work to match Kentucky workforce needs with transitioning service members and their families,” she said. “We tend to focus on 3 key areas – workforce development organizations, institutes of higher education, and private companies. The unique aspect of the veteran talent pool is that veterans know how to work, they know how to take direction, and they have good skills that should be utilized by employers in Kentucky.”

Sen. Gary Boswell, R-Owensboro, said it’s important for people to receive credit for job experience gained through military service.

“To me, that is probably the most important thing that you’re talking about,” he said.

Rep. Scott Sharp, R-Ashland, asked about third-party entities that are paid for holding hiring events on some military installations.

Bode said accessing hiring events or even transition assistance offices can sometimes involve a charge.

“That’s interesting. You’d think that wouldn’t take place,” Sharp said.

Bode said her group has worked hard to build relationships with the installations that don’t contract out to third parties, and there are none of them in Kentucky.

Rep. Sarah Stalker, D-Louisville, asked about the role of the nonprofit sector, saying nonprofits often do the “very heavy lifting for our veterans.”

“We are always eager to partner with nonprofits. We are one ourselves,” Bode said. “We try to reach anybody that we can, and we welcome any partnership, whether that be a nonprofit or something that’s more integrated into the government sector,” she said.

Sen. Gex Williams, R-Verona, asked Bode if she has encountered those who will not consider Kentucky for retirement because military retirement is taxed as income.

“Yes, I do. I’m sure you all are more aware of this than I am, but that’s a big, hot topic when traveling outside of Kentucky. It’s one of the first questions that I’m asked, in fact,” she said. “Sometimes we can mitigate that with the cost of living conversation, but moving Kentucky towards a state that does not tax the pension of veterans would be a game-changer for us.”

November 11, 2023 | 12:07 am

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