188th Engineers Return 374, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from NDNG’s photostream

Thousands of veterans have returned to Pittsburgh over the past several years and thousands more will be returning in the coming years as combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan come to a close. Pittsburgh already has a strong support system for returning veterans with resources like the Veterans Administration Pittsburgh Healthcare System. However, it is our responsibility as a city to do more. For veterans between the ages of 18 to 24 unemployment levels are higher than 20 percent and even for older veterans finding a job can be a challenge, especially if they are also dealing with the physical and mental stresses associated with returning from combat. As Mayor I will work to make sure that no one who has sacrificed for our country has to worry about finding employment to support themselves and their family.

1. Operation Black and Gold Ribbon

Pittsburgh needs a specialized employment and training program geared specifically for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans — Operation Black and Gold Ribbon. I will work with our colleges and universities, our tech and medical industries, organized labor, and our partners at the state and federal level to create this citywide program to connect veterans with the job training opportunities and job placement services that they need to reenter the Pittsburgh workforce. Leveraging tax credits offered by the state and federal governments we can create a database of employers ready and willing to hire veterans who already have the specialized skills they need and work with veterans on a one-on-one basis to place them in these positions.

For those veterans who want to continue their education or want to obtain specialized vocational or technical skills we will work with the Community College of Allegheny County and other colleges and universities in the city to ensure their placement in the appropriate programs. The city will also assist with the process of navigating existing federal programs in the Department of Labor and the Veterans Administration to help veterans take advantage of the funding streams available to them. The leadership skills, technological know-how, and organizational training these veterans are returning with makes them well-suited to quickly reenter the workforce and we will facilitate that process through partnerships that will benefit the entire city.

Finally, we will strengthen and enforce city codes requiring a percentage of city contracts to be awarded to qualified veteran-owned small businesses and provide opportunities for those business to increase their capacity to be able to obtain these contracts.