By Safiya Merchant


Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said veterans can be valuable participants in the private sector once they come back home. (Safiya Merchant/Medill)

WASHINGTON–Hours after President Barack Obama urged Congress to create more employment opportunities for veterans, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki stressed the importance of taking care of the nation’s veterans Wednesday.

Addressing a symposium sponsored by electronics giant Siemens Corp., Shinseki said hiring veterans is a smart business decision, not just a way to honor those who have served the country.

“The skills, knowledge, and attributes that made them prudent yet decisive, practical yet dominant, on the battlefield where uncertainty reined, are what they bring back with them and they offer to us to help stoke the economic engines we’re all trying to jumpstart,” he said.

Siemens announced that as part of Joining Forces, the initiative by Michelle Obama and Jill Biden to provide more assistance to armed forces and their families, it will hire 300 veterans. Last year, the company said it hired about 600 veterans.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama said the military deserve care and benefits as they come home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Along with giving tax credits to corporations that make it a mission to hire veterans, Obama proposed a Veteran Job Corps to encourage the hiring of veterans as police and firefighters.

Besides helping veterans, military spouses, whose unemployment rate sits at 26 percent, also need assistance, said Shinseki’s wife, Patty, who serves as an adviser for Joining Forces.

John Sylvester, a board member for Siemens Government Technologies, Inc. and a veteran, said veterans are assets to companies because they can gain many skills when they are on active duty.

“A veteran understands selfless service,” Sylvester said. “If he can perform selfless service for his country and what not, he or she can perform selflessly for a corporation as well.”