Transitioning back to civilian life can pose many challenges for our returning veterans. Suddenly faced with reentering the civilian workforce in a recovering economy, the biggest challenge for many will be to find employment in a very tight job market. The United States District Court for the Central District of California is happy and proud to extend internship opportunities to transitioning veterans through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, which assists veterans with service-connected disabilities to prepare for, find, and keep suitable jobs.
The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, also known as the Chapter 31 Program, provides eligible veterans the opportunity to obtain training and practical on-the-job experience in federal, state, and local government agencies. In addition to gaining valuable experience, knowledge, and skills, internships provide an opportunity for eligible veterans to develop positive working traits, establish an employment history in order to better compete in the job market, and gain exposure to potential employment opportunities. Although they are not paid employees, participating veterans receive a monthly subsistence allowance from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, in accordance with the intent of the program, the veterans are treated by their managers and supervisors as if they were compensated employees, and not simply volunteers or interns.
The Court also benefits. Participating veterans are prescreened by the VA counselor at no expense to the hiring agency. In addition to the skills and knowledge they have acquired through their service and education, the veterans also bring to their internships their commitment to federal service and the discipline instilled through their years of service. And the rewards don’t stop there: offering internships to veterans also is a way to demonstrate gratitude to our veterans for their service to our country.
Under the program, the veteran works an established schedule, typically 40 hours a week, as any other employee would, for a term of six months, which can be extended. Their work supervisor at the Court provides monthly progress reports and sets the veteran’s work schedule. Any tools, uniforms, or other employer-required items are provided by the VA, and the VA case manager continues to supervise the veteran through monthly contacts. At the Court, the program is overseen by one of our managers, who serves as a facilitator of the program locally and as a liaison with the VA. Another staff member serves as a mentor and a continuing source of support to the veterans, providing them with a sounding board outside of their chain of command with whom they can discuss their experiences and challenges freely and openly.
Our Court has had three veterans working in various departments within the Clerk’s Office. One veteran, who worked with high-frequency communications and mortar munitions while serving in Iraq, works with our Information Technology (IT) Network group’s Telecommunications team, setting up video teleconferences and assisting with setting up and activating new phones. “This program is a great opportunity,” he states. “I’m getting additional knowledge that I didn’t get while I was in school, such as mounting new routers to the racks, learning the Nortel PBX system, and videoconferencing using the DCHP server.” Our IT Network Manager adds, “[He] is an eager and hardworking colleague, always ready to assist in whatever task he is asked to do. It is obvious that he wants to learn all he can from the group, and asks for reference material that would help him learn, do a better job, and make a significant contribution.”
Another veteran, a former infantry officer in Korea, started his internship immediately after completing his paralegal studies and obtaining his certificate, which was paid for through the VA program. He worked in our Legal Services Department, updating records in attorney discipline matters, summarizing the trial transcript of a capital habeas petitioner, and collecting information from the California Supreme Court and Department of Corrections websites in order to update a report used to estimate the status of capital habeas cases pending in the California Supreme Court and the number of cases our court can expect to receive next year. He stated, “I’ve appreciated the Legal Services staff and their willingness to give me substantive work to do right off the bat. The staff has made themselves available for my questions and conversation, which has greatly enhanced my efficiency, the quality of my work product, and my educational experience.” The department’s Managing Attorney stated, “[He] continually exhibits enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity with regard to all of his assignments and has generally adjusted well to the Court’s work environment. [He] has been a pleasure to work with, and the benefits to the unit are well worth the minimal time it took to set up his internship.”
Our third veteran intern, a former cargo/weapons elevator electrician in the Gulf War, also has her paralegal certificate, and is learning the duties of a courtroom deputy. In addition to attending hearings, she has received training on a variety of tasks, including scanning, quality-control review of pleadings, and processing returned mail. She states, “This internship is a great opportunity to further my experience in the legal field and build credits for my resume. I have the opportunity to be exposed to an array of legal documents, thus becoming more familiar with them. Everyone is welcoming and helpful, and I’m glad to be here.” Like our intern in the Legal Services Department, who says that his internship has motivated him to consider taking the LSAT, she has been inspired to continue with her legal education as a result of her internship here at the Court. In addition to the benefits she has received from the program, our Assistant Courtroom Operations Manager notes the benefits received by the Court, stating, “Through the program, [she] has been able to utilize her skills, knowledge, and education for her benefit and the Clerk’s Office’s benefit.”
The District Court is proud to provide internship opportunities through this very valuable program to our veterans who have served our country so valiantly. Through the program, the Court benefits from their contributions while helping them on the road back into the civilian workforce.