Introducing the New Commissioner by Chuck Zingler, Commissioner, Department of Veteran Services
April 10th, 2024

“The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.” –President George Washington

I am very proud to present myself to you, this distinguished group of industries, businesses and entrepreneurs that make up our Commonwealth’s workforce.   While my 30-year military career has taken me on deployments and assignments across the country and the globe, Virginia has been my home since 1983, and I can’t think of a better place to live, work, and raise a family.  Having now met with members from the Virginia Chamber twice since beginning my “assignment” as Commissioner in January, I can see an energy, and a growth, that portends even greater value and opportunities for our Service personnel, our veterans, and their families.

As the Commissioner, of our Department of Veterans Services, I represent an organization charged to serve and support Virginia’s over 700,000 veterans, our transitioning active duty and reserve service members, their families, and survivors.  We do that with a coordinated effort across a distributed network of professionals delivering Education, Training and Employment support, Benefit services, Family Support services, Health and Wellness support, Skilled Nursing Centers, Veterans Cemeteries, and honoring our rich history through the Virginia War Memorial.  It’s an awesome effort, and it’s the easiest hard job I’ve ever had, in terms of waking up extra early every morning to go to work!

Today, I’d like to focus on the Training and Employment piece.  I know that this is an area which you are already well versed and invested in.  I also know that our goals are aligned – to drive growth in our economy, creating new jobs, building the workforce, connecting our communities, and improving the financial security of our Commonwealth to provide for safer and better educated communities.   In our initial discussion before coming onboard, Governor Youngkin was direct and simple; “let’s set a course that puts Virginia above all others in serving our veterans and our industries”.   The facts are that we’re losing population, not growing; and regarding our retiring and separating service members, more are choosing to leave our Commonwealth than are staying.

My lessons from both my career in the Navy, as well as 17 years in industry, has clearly revealed the strong positive impact that Service men and women – and their family members – make when they leave their service careers and join the civilian workforce.   They are more technically savvy than ever before, they have “lived” the pinnacle of “teamwork”.  They are ambitious, thrive on aspirational goals, understand roles and their contribution to the ultimate objective.  They have been “schooled” by organizations that are nearly 250 years in the making; and defined by principles like character, honor, commitment, and trust.   However, the reality today is that there is real work still to do.  Veteran underemployment remains a significant, yet often overlooked, challenge in our workforce today.   I’d like your help in addressing this challenge.

Just a few years ago, we started a program aptly named ‘Virginia Values Veterans (V3)’.  The program was designed to enhance our state-wide ambitions to grow our businesses and increase our employment of veterans and their spouses.   By the measure of recognizing “veteran friendly” businesses, we are achieving wonderful results.  We’re now approaching 4,000 “V3-certified” companies, having added almost 1,000 new companies in the past year alone.  It’s impressive to see how many companies across our state recognize the value and impact that our veterans and their family members have on our businesses and to our communities.   However, I must tell you, from my seat, that it has not been nearly as successful as we need it to be.

Our transition processes and programs are not providing the necessary assistance to our retiring and separating servicemembers and families.  With the activity levels of all of our services still very high, many service members are working 40–60-hour weeks right up to their final weeks, and then facing the stresses of finding the right fit…not a job…but a career that will serve their own feeling of “purpose”, and an opportunity to apply their talents and expertise to some bigger good, for an organization as well as their family and future.

For those successful in getting a job through this transition process, retention has been surprisingly low.  By year three after on-boarding, 9 of 10 have are no longer with their company.   I would assume frustration is high, certainly understandable, on both employer as well as service member/employee sides of this challenge.   This gap represents not just a loss for the individuals but a missed opportunity for businesses to benefit from a workforce with proven resilience, adaptability, and a unique perspective on teamwork and problem-solving.  This suggests to me that we’re not doing enough to allow for good preparation and decision making, perhaps by the transitioning service member and family, in preparation for their new “career” and transition.

I would welcome your help and ideas for addressing this problem.   I am not sure it’s unique to service members or veterans.  Like our high school and college students, the decisions surrounding identifying the right career can be overwhelming without mentors, coaches, thoughtful engagement sessions of better questions, and experienced answers.   Each of our “V3 Certified” companies already have some number of veterans who have navigated the transition process.   They know the process, but perhaps more importantly, they know the specific career choice they made and why.  They know not just the job, but how to successfully deliver the requisite skills and performance to advance.  They know what a good day looks like, and perhaps the things that need to be done to successfully deliver on the more difficult days.   Those are the realities of every opportunity.   I believe that giving our transitioning service personnel and/or their spouses access to a number of these coaches/mentors would allow for better decisions by both future employee and employer.   This is but one idea.   I’m anxious to discuss more in the weeks ahead with all of you.

I also see hope in the efforts of our Department of Labor and Industry; the “Virginia Works” and Virginia Workforce Connection.   We are looking to leverage these efforts in aligning Service member, Veteran, and family member skills and experience with specific industry needs and opportunities.   Similarly, I think we can align regional opportunities by skill/industry so that Veterans and their spouses will be better prepared to look for their “connection”.   And additionally, but by no means a last or final step, would be to better identify the specific jobs, careers, and industries that our colleges, universities, community colleges, and technical schools address with their upskilling and reskilling programs.  It must be made more consumable for our veterans.   I see that across all the services and benefits that our Veterans and families have earned.  As George Washington said centuries ago, the best way to provide for generations of Americans tomorrow and after, is to ensure that they have those willing to serve and protect our freedom and liberty.   They will judge us on the continuing story of our Veterans, and how we show our thanks and appreciation.   I look forward to hearing from you and speaking with you in the months and years ahead.  And I commit to working alongside you with dedicated effort to work to make our Commonwealth the best place for Veterans to work, live and raise their families.  Thank you all for your efforts and may God continue to bless you and your families.