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story.lead_photo.caption A crowd of veterans, employers, veteran support groups, as well as state and federal agencies gather Thursday during a ceremony as July 25 was proclaimed Hire a Veteran Day at Carnahan Memorial Garden. More than 100 people attended the event, and about two dozen agencies and companies that make specific efforts to hire veterans were recognized. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

Participating in a national event, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson proclaimed Thursday as Hire a Veteran Day.

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Parson, who often tells listeners he would not have become governor if not for his military service, said the goal of the late-morning gathering was to get Missouri businesses and agencies to consider military veterans for their job openings.

And he said businesses can help veterans transition into civilian roles, where they can be productive parts of society.

"For you employers that are here today that care so much about these programs, I want to thank you — thank you for being here," Parson said. "Putting veterans to work will make our country, our society, your workforce, your communities better."

Parson made the comments to more than 100 veterans and employers in Carnahan Memorial Garden.

"(The event) was about making sure we're putting veterans back in the workforce," he said, "and that we know that this country will — 100 percent — stand behind her veterans all through their careers and all through their lives."

Missouri Veterans Commission Executive Director Grace Link, who emceed the ceremony, said the day was important because it showcased how important veterans are to the country and to the state.

"Every day, hundreds of our military personnel transition from military life," Link said. "And it's you employers out there that give them the opportunity."

Veterans are highly qualified individuals who may readily fill open positions in employers' ranks, she said.

"The best way to honor a veteran is to hire one," she said.

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Link recognized about two dozen agencies and companies that make specific efforts to hire veterans, including Missouri American Water; the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Scholastic Inc.; the Truman Veterans Administration Hospital; Missouri State Emergency Management Agency; and Missouri departments of Economic Development Transportation and Natural Resources.

August Nielsen, director of people services for Veterans United, said the company, based out of Columbia, is the largest VA lender in the country. It has more than 2,600 employees nationwide, many of whom are veterans.

"We have the honor of helping American men and women who have served our country achieve the American dream of homeownership," Nielsen told listeners.

The VA offers mortgage loans to veterans with no down payments. Guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, those loans are issued by private lenders, like mortgage companies or banks.

Use of the program has increased dramatically over the past few years, said Chris Cline, a medial relations specialist with the company.

"The VA doesn't actually do the loans," Nielsen later said. "They just make the program accessible."

Before the ceremony, Missouri State Parks Director Ben Ellis said between the parks and the department's ranger program, position openings are continuous.

Rangers must go through the Missouri Highway Patrol Academy, Ellis said.

"Of 46 rangers, 17 are military veterans," Ellis said. "Many veterans are outdoor enthusiasts — they love to hunt and fish and camp."

Alongside rangers, many other State Parks employees are veterans.

Brett Barnes, a veteran of the U.S. Army and the National Guard, said one of the first jobs he had when he left military service was as a seasonal employee for a state park.

Now, he's the manager of Mark Twain State Park.

"Veterans are great employees," Barnes said. "They learn in the Army how to complete tasks. Once they understand the task, you're not going to have to follow up."

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