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Guest column/Let’s honor America’s heroes with action

Honoring military veterans for their service should be a solemn obligation for all Americans, not just on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, but every day of the year. This obligation has always held true, but never so much as in the uncertain times we’re facing today.

Because of the continuing pandemic and unsettled economy, Veterans Day 2021 calls for something special. And by “special” I don’t mean more speechmaking or lavish words of praise. Veterans Day has never lacked for those. What I’m talking about is the need for truly meaningful actions to put force behind our words, actions, and results that prove how much we understand the obstacles they so often face adapting to civilian life.

What’s needed are proactive government and private-sector policies that acknowledge the physical, emotional, and occupational challenges facing veterans who so often struggle to carve out a civilian life and career. These issues are magnified today by the pandemic’s economic aftershocks and by rapid changes the American workplace.

Because of these new realities, we must ensure that our veterans — and their families — have access to the healthcare, education, and services they need to lead productive and fulfilling civilian lives. As an educator, and as an Army National Guard veteran myself, I understand these challenges and, in particular, I’m concerned with the educational and career-preparation issues our veterans face.

And this is not just a task for far-off decision-makers in government and business. Support for veterans must first and foremost come from those who are closest, from loved ones, neighbors, coworkers, and others who can encourage veterans to take full advantage of the education and job-training resources available to former service members like them. In other words, it may be up to our political and business-sector leaders to put programs and services in place.

But it takes all of us to make sure that the veterans we’re closest to are aware of those services and persuade them to take advantage of each opportunity.

As Ohio bounces back from the pandemic, good-paying jobs increasingly require a higher level of skills to meet the needs of new technologies. Fortunately, this creates a job market in which a well-prepared veteran can thrive, because veterans have already served a system that emphasizes discipline, focus, and competency-based training. They are familiar with job-skills learning that has been provided in innovative ways, outside of traditional classrooms and geared to the needs of adult or non-traditional learners.

Higher education in Ohio is doing its part, and my own institution, Western Governors University Ohio, provides programs and financial aid designed to help veterans turn their military or civilian job experience into an accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree in a broad range of programs. For veterans accustomed to the military’s competency-based instruction methods, WGU Ohio’s, online-learning approach will be familiar. Students earn credit toward a degree by demonstrating their mastery of a subject from previous work or military experience, rather than by how many hours they sit in the classroom or are forced to spend “re-learning” what they already know.

This Veterans Day, as we show our gratitude to the men and women who have given so much to our nation, we must never lose sight of the challenges many face when they re-enter civilian life. For any Ohioan — including veterans — seeking the educational credentials needed to compete for in-demand jobs, Western Governors University can be the perfect resource. And for employers seeking motivated, tested workers with credentialed skills, WGU graduates can be just what you are looking for.

(Allen is chancellor of WGU Ohio, the state affiliate of online, nonprofit Western Governors University.)

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