Maj. Gen. Deborah Ashenhurst said her goal is to bridge the gap in job readiness so that every veteran is ready to assimilate into civilian life “the moment they step out of uniform.”
Gov. Mike DeWine named Ashenhurst in January as the leader of Ohio’s veteran services, a role that serves the states’s nearly 800,000 veterans. In her first interview with the Dayton Daily News, Ashenhurst said she is determined to help veterans assimilate to civilian culture after military service — working to improve and sustain programs that address veteran mental health and employment issues.
“We’re going to continue our great strides connecting our returning veterans with jobs and workforce placement and development,” Ashenhurst said. “I really think it’s a critical time when our military members are transitioning to civilian life. If we can catch them and have them coming home to a job — instead of trying to come home and look for a job — I think we get ahead of homelessness; we get ahead of other [issues] like drug abuse, mental health issues, suicide even.”
Ashenhurst brings experience from her 37 years of service in the Ohio National Guard — having held assignments at all levels including company, battalion, brigade and Joint Force Headquarters. She served as adjutant general of Ohio, commanding the 17,000 personnel of the Ohio Army and Air National Guard, Ohio Military Reserve and Ohio Naval Militia.
The Ohio Department of Veterans Services had a Senate-approved budget of $90.7 million in fiscal year 2018 – much of that going to the operations efforts of two veteran nursing care facilities in the state. The state agency has just over 1,000 employees, including 935 that are held by permanent full-time and part-time workers.
Department to take proactive approach to veteran employment
In 2018, unemployment rates for the latest generation of veterans fell to the lowest it has ever been — a 3.8-percent annual unemployment rate. In 2011, post-9/11 veteran unemployment rose to 12.1 percent – more than triple the amount of last year’s rate.
However, the unemployment rate for veterans jumped in the first month of 2019, with post-9/11 veterans unemployment rates ticking up from 3.6 percent in December to 4.2 in January.
Veteran employment is important for the state economy, because more than 9 percent of Ohio’s population is made up of veterans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ashenhurst said part of the problem for veterans is translating military experience into a civilian resume. The state’s website, OhioMeansVeteransJobs.com, provides active and retired military service members with access to resources, training, employment opportunities and benefits. The site also has a “military skills translator,” which helps individuals translate military skills into a polished resume fit for their new career pursuit.
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Ashenhurst wants to take a proactive approach to veteran employment — making sure the department has communicated with deployed service members from Ohio while they’re serving the nation.
“For me, it’s all about passion,” she said. “My husband is a veteran, my father is a veteran, my brother is a veteran. I have nephews that are veterans. It’s in my heart. It’s what drives me. For this governor and this job, it was perfect scenario to bring me out of retirement to be able to help and serve the individuals in Ohio that we call veterans.”
Making Ohio military friendly
As of December 2017, OhioMeansVeteransJobs had more than 20,000 veteran resumes had been sent to employers, according to a state report. The website has also registered more than 3,800 “military-friendly employers,” a spokesman said.
Registering as a “military-friendly employer” gives businesses access to thousands of veteran resumes in the state. These employers actively recruit hire and retain veteran service members, establish a veteran or military employee resource group, or sponsor and host company military and veteran recognition events and programs.
Ashenhurst said adequate veteran hiring practices can help the skilled workforce issues impacting local communities in the region.
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“The majority of our veterans are tremendously productive, self-driven, motivated, good employees who don’t have drug issues. What a great thing for employers,” Ashenhurst said. “Some of our largest employers have embraced this because they’re having problems hiring people who don’t have drug issues.”
Companies with a local presence from all types of industries — Abercrombie & Fitch, Fuyao Glass America, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Dayton, Hospice of Ohio, Mahle Behr Dayton, Manpower of Dayton, Delta Airlines — have registered as military friendly.
Tom Mayer, owner of the local Manpower staffing franchise, said the company targets veterans on local job boards and works with Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Family Services Center to recruit military spouses as well.
“They definitely bring a sense of duty and understanding of discipline,” Mayer told the Dayton Daily News. “They’re ready to work hard and do what they’re supposed to do, and not everyone in the civilian world has that mentality.”
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