First lady Michelle Obama, left, talks to attendees of Disney's Veterans Institute jobs forum Nov. 14 after giving the keynote address in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP)
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. — First lady Michelle Obama said Thursday that companies participating in a program to help veterans find employment have exceeded their initial goal by training or hiring 380,000 veterans and military spouses.
Obama made the announcement during a speech at a daylong Walt Disney World forum aimed at getting opportunities and developing programs for bringing ex-soldiers into the workforce.
Earlier this year, Obama announced that the Joining Forces program she started along with Jill Biden more than two years ago had hired 290,000 veterans and spouses. This latest new hiring number is nearly four times the original goal the program wanted to reach by the end of 2013.
Flanked by a stage full of Disney employees that are former military veterans, Obama spoke to a packed ballroom of 500 people, representing 350 employers.
“There’s a reason you’re here today and it’s not just because hiring veterans is the patriotic thing to do,” she said. “You’re here because hiring veterans is the smart thing to do for your businesses.”
Thursday’s forum was a free event aimed at inspiring employers to hire servicemen and women looking for work in the private sector. The jobless rate for veterans who served after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks fell from 12.1 percent in 2011 to 9.9 percent in 2012.
Disney has exceeded a commitment it made last year to hire more than 1,000 veterans by 2015, and in March pledged to create opportunities for another 1,000 service members over the next two years.
“I’ve come to learn hiring people with military backgrounds isn’t just a right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” said Disney chairman and CEO Robert Iger. “It’s inspiring to see so many employers here today who understand that.”
Obama said that the challenge for employers lies in the hiring process and identifying skills that veterans have that translate to their businesses, and then retaining them.
“We are counting on all of you to ensure that these veterans can get the good jobs they deserve,” she said.
Some of the nation’s largest companies have begun hiring vets in recent months.
Obama said Starbucks announced a commitment in the next five years to hire 10,000 veterans, and that since the end of May, Wal-Mart has already hired 20,000 veterans.
But she said hiring at small- and medium-sized businesses was needed, too.
“There are veterans in just about every zip code in this country,” Obama said. “But not every community has a Disney. What every community does have, however, is local businesses like the ones that many of you represent. So companies like yours can actually hire veterans where they and their families live.
“Every single one of those hires matters. And taken together, those numbers add up pretty fast.”