With Veterans Day approaching, local organizations gathered Wednesday for a discussion with U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos about veterans issues.
The stop in Peoria, held in conjunction with her Standing Up for Our Veterans Tour, allowed Bustos to hear from area experts on the current state of veterans conditions from the Peoria portion of her congressional district. The East Moline Democrat wanted a snapshot of veterans in Peoria, and heard some common themes from her previous discussions around her district.
"Way too often we have people coming home from their military service that have seen a lot, and it's impacting them," Bustos said. "How do we minimize these issues?"
Among the issues, homelessness and better paying jobs were discussed most fervently. Leaders from Goodwill, Salvation Army, the Illinois Department of Employment Security and other groups voiced their experiences with individual veterans and some of the obstacles to tackle in central Illinois — even items like more accessible transportation on nights and weekends and developing "soft" skills in social situations.
Bustos considered each offering and introduced a concept her office helped shepherd in Rockford, a hiring fair for veterans. Instead of a typical job fair, only employers who have openings and are willing to hire were invited. A number of veterans subsequently were hired on the spot in Rockford, a hopeful outcome for the Peoria hiring fair Bustos's office has tentatively scheduled for the first quarter of 2014.
"Our plan is to be able to do those once a year," Bustos said. "The whole ball game here is jobs, and we've got to focus on jobs."
Johanna Wagner, veterans services manager for Goodwill Industries of Central Illinois, welcomed the ideas crisscrossing the room Wednesday and hoped Bustos carries what she learned into productive legislative sessions in Congress.
"Even though I knew everyone around the table, I learned some things today myself," Wagner said. "I really hope she brings a lot of that back and takes it to heart when she's coming up with a plan."
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3188 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.