The American Legion’s Economic Division made important strides this year at the organization’s annual Washington Conference, announcing a memorandum of understanding with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), hosting a first-ever summit for improving veteran credentialing in the professional fields and holding its annual job fair. A month later, these initiatives are blossoming.

Working with the USDA, the Legion has been keeping posts and departments informed of agriculture jobs and employment opportunities that have opened up across the country. The first and major job initiative that USDA funneled through the Legion’s channels was the Veterans Fire Corps (http://www.veteransfirecorps.org) – a program that places veterans into forestry and wildland fire-fighting careers.

The Legion’s credentialing summit was equally effective from a legislative perspective, drawing lawmakers’ attention to an issue that needed their support. Chiefly, the summit aimed to find ways to improve veterans’ opportunities in the trade and vocational fields. The issue: Servicemembers are joining the military and gaining valuable technical skills but aren’t able to put them to use in civilian careers. Military training often doesn’t count for credit in becoming credentialed in a trade or vocational field.

A group of lawmakers have since sprung into action on the issue. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, introduced legislation that required the Secretary of Transportation to launch a study assessing the barriers servicemembers face in obtaining a commercial driver’s license. Dubbed the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” bill, it passed the Senate by a wide margin.

The Legion is also working with Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., to pass the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act through the House. The measure would streamline the credentialing process for servicemembers and remove the bureaucracies from it, allowing relevant military training to become equivalent to federal licensing and certification requirements. The Legion also is lobbying for H.R. 4115 – a similar bill that would amend the U.S. Code to require states to consider military training when certifying credentials or licenses.

“The Legion is encouraged by the response from the Senate in passing the surface transportation authorization bill,” said Steve Gonzalez, assistant director of the Legion’s Economic Division. “We view it as a good first step toward resolving the credentialing issue. We hope it leads to additional proactive measures that help military training count toward licensing requirements.”

Additionally, the Legion has been active at the grassroots level in improving the employment outlook for veterans. Its job fair at the Washington Conference welcomed 55 employers who were accepting résumés and even interviewing on site. The Legion also advertised job openings of its own, giving veterans in attendance a first crack at them.