Returning vets get electrifying new jobs as feds expand use of battery-powered vehicles

Some of America's returning veterans are going back to work for the government.

An agreement between Eaton Corp., Autoflex and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) will provide electrical vehicle (EV) charging stations for government facilities and hire veterans to install them. In order to keep up with the new business, Eaton and its contract partner Autoflex have launched a new trainee program called VETCARS, which will employ deserving veteran trainees.

"It's got the potential to train and employ hundreds if not thousands of veterans," says Luis McDonald, founder and president of Autoflex. "It will definitely help this administration's goal of having 1 million plug-in vehicles on the road by 2015."

The agreement is part of the federal government's Electrical Vehicle Pilot Program, which currently operates 60 EV charging stations in five test cities with a goal of installing at total of 100 by the end if 2012. The government's adoption of EVs comes from a desire to improve the efficiency of federal vehicle and building portfolios and is helping reach the GSA's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the federal government by 30 percent by 2020.

So far, the VETCARS program has created around 20 green jobs for returning veterans.

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    "From Eaton's perspective, we're trying to get more veterans involved in federal infrastructure," says Jim Dankowski, manager of marketing and business development at Eaton Corp. "We want to use vets on everything they can so they have a job when they come home."

    McDonald, a Vietnam veteran, was trained in electrical systems at Eaton before he started at Autoflex 27 years ago. Now, his business leases EVs, and installs and maintains EV charging stations around the country.

    VETCARS, which held its first two-day workshop at the Community College of Baltimore County at Catonsville, aims to hire returning veterans who have an electrician's background and train them in EV charging station installation and management.

    "We're a community college that does alternative fuels training. Our school works closely with veterans and we're part of the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium [NAFTC]," workshop instructor Terry Wolfe tells

    Erick Castro, an Iraq war veteran and graduate of the training program, sees the project as another way to secure his country's future. "With this company, we're not using foreign oil, and we're creating jobs and helping veterans gain employment," he says.

    Castro is the operations manager at All Veterans Corp. in Santa Ana, Calif., a general engineering and electrical company that helps vets find jobs. "We thought it would be great to team up with another organization to hire veterans, because nobody else wants to hire us."

    Through the NAFTC, Autoflex and Eaton have the potential to set up training programs at more than 50 colleges around the country.

    Maryland currently has five test charging stations at its Veterans Affairs medical centers. Longtime vocational rehabilitation specialist for the VA Maryland Health Care System and now Acting Survey Readiness Coordinator says the program Tim Landis said: "has had a very positive impact on the lives of the veterans...[it] offers the veterans a good opportunity to learn a new and growing technology."