Orange County business owners are more willing than ever to hire and train military veterans, but many vets still remain unemployed, advocates say.
To help hook up eager employers with veterans, a group led by local businessman John Hacker is putting on a two-day expo in October. He's hoping the event — which is in its fifth year — will attract about 500 former military servicemembers.
"It could be disabled veterans who just need services, veterans who are looking for educational information, job information," he told members of the O.C. Veterans' Council earlier this week.
The Council was created in 1978 to keep politicians' abreast of veterans' needs. Council Chairperson Bobby McDonald estimated Orange County has over 130,000 veterans.
Hacker said while federal money has been flowing into the county to get homeless veterans off the street, there's a big gap when it comes to finding veterans jobs.
"Over the years, I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘I’m not a homeless veteran, John, but I have questions,'" he said.
The expo, which they're calling a "stand down"--military lingo for when a combat unit takes a break from the front lines and gets some time to rest and recover before heading out again--is looking for employers willing to provide job training.
John Hacker himself knows sometimes veterans need that pause when transitioning to civilian life, too. Twenty years ago, he was a U.S. Army infantry squad leader fighting his way through the Tet Offensive. Today, he has his own real estate business in Huntington Beach.
Hacker said employers are attracted to military vets because of their leadership skills, discipline, and work ethic. But many just need a little retraining.
"We’re just looking for a pull-up by the boot, not a hand-out," Hacker said. "We just want somebody to reach out to us and help out."