This Veterans Day is like no other because of the extraordinary coincidence of the clock that will tick 11:11:11:11, the eleventh month, eleventh day, eleventh hour, eleventh minute, and so on.
But more seriously, it is a day like no other because not since Vietnam have we had so many returning with lifelong physical and emotional wounds.
For the first time, too, the returning combat veterans and wounded warriors include women, many who are mothers of young children.
After going off so gloriously to fight for the American Dream in hostile places, they return to the worst economy since the Great Depression.
These are the first great wars conducted in an era of an all-volunteer military (which I support). Many joined up during peacetime to get money for college or because jobs were already hard to find; many others joined up in the patriotic fervor of 9/11, but instead of fighting Osama bin Laden, were thrown into the quagmire of Iraq. Regardless why they joined, the hardship and suffering of a decade of war – with Afghanistan the longest war in American history – is concentrated within a tiny fraction of our society.
Under George W. Bush, who so callously sent a million soldiers into battle without proper vests or armor, based on manufactured threats of weapons of mass destruction and who never hesitated to wave the “Support the Troops” banner to rally political support, the wounded warriors and veterans received inadequate medical treatment (remember the scandal at Walter Reed Hospital?), their psychological difficulties were shoved under a rug (suicide rates at record highs), and there was no effort to assist them in finding civilian jobs, let alone ease their transition back into civilian life, resulting in high levels of homelessness.
Today, even as the nation is hobbled by 9% unemployment rates, the rates for post-9/11 veterans has been consistently higher, and now is over 12%.
President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have made easing the way for military families and veterans a focus of this administration – not just a talking point and photo op at Veterans Day.
Michelle Obama with Dr. Jill Biden have cajoled employers to reach out to veterans, to respect the skills and experience they have gained in the military. President Obama has gone further, issuing Presidential Directives across his cabinet to institute programs for veterans and military families.
One initiative involved a tax credit of $2400 for employers to hire veterans out of work for four weeks; $5600 to hire a vet out of work for six months or longer. But that tax credit expired in 2010.
Obama sought similar tax credits as part of the American Jobs Act that Republican Senators unified to block from even coming to a vote (a majority of Senators voted to end cloture, but not the mythical 60 votes which now has become necessary to end a filibuster).
This week, refusing to wait for the do-nothing Congress to act on the provision of the American Jobs Act that would provide tax incentives to hire returning veterans, especially the long-term unemployed, Obama issued a series of initiatives that will make it easier for veterans to find jobs:
Veteran Gold Card: Effective immediately, Post-9/11 veterans will be able to download the Veteran Gold Card, which entitles them to enhanced services including six months of personalized case management, assessments and counseling, at the 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers located across the country. This could help serve more than 200,000 unemployed Post-9/11 veterans. Counselors help vets connect with employers and training opportunities, explain the GI Bill benefits, refer them to job banks and job portals. The President directed the Department of Labor tolaunch this initiative in his August 5, 2011 speech at the Navy Yard. This does not require any new funding.
My Next Move for Veterans: The Department of Labor is launching My Next Move for Veterans, a new online resource – a “skills translator” – that allows veterans to enter their military occupation code and discover civilian occupations for which they are well qualified. The site will also include information about salaries, apprenticeships, and other related education and training programs.
Creating a Veterans Job Bank: Starting Monday, the Administration will launch the Veterans Job Bank, at National Resource Directory, an easy to use tool to help veterans find job postings from companies looking to hire veterans. It already searches over 500,000 job postings, provided by Simply Hire, a leading jobs search engine, and is growing. In a few easy steps, companies can make sure the job postings on their own websites are part of this Veterans Job Bank. This was accomplished in collaboration with major private sector job boards and HR systems, and enables employers to tag a job as being appropriate for a veteran. It is endorsed by Linked-in, Twitter, and Branchout.
These initiatives facilitate access for veterans to jobs but do not create new jobs. To do that, Obama and veterans groups are calling upon Congress to pass Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Tax Credits, two provisions in the American Jobs Act Congress is scheduled to consider this week.
The Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides firms that hire unemployed veterans with a maximum credit of $5,600 per veteran. The Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities with a maximum credit of $9,600 per veteran.
“No veteran should have to fight for a job at home after they fight for our nation overseas,” President Obama declared. “Congress should pass the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior tax credits, but we can’t wait for Congress to act. That’s why today, I am directing my Administration to move forward with three initiatives that will help make it easier for veterans to find jobs when they return home.”
Veterans groups whole-heartedly support the tax credits.
“It’s time to pull out the stops. After their service to the country, our war fighters have been hit disproportionately hard by the economic downturn with unemployment rates that eclipse their non-military cohorts,” said Bob Wallace, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. “Without using every option available to assist them, unemployment for veterans will only rise with the draw-down of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are proud to see that the Administration has recognized the immediate needs of our veterans by focusing on extending and improving tax credits for job-creators who wish to hire hard-working, battle-proven leaders.”
“The Disabled American Veterans welcomes any and all efforts to encourage businesses to hire veterans,” said DAV National Commander Donald L. Samuels. “President Obama’s plan will be an added incentive to do so. The men and women who have served and sacrificed for our nation deserve a square deal in the job market.”
“The American Legion, on behalf of its 2.4-million members, appreciates the efforts of President Obama and Congress to curb the unacceptably high rate of unemployment among the men and women who have selflessly served our country,” said Peter Gaytan, Executive Director of the Washington D.C. office of the American Legion. “Tax credits will augment the good and patriotic intentions of employers with tangible, financial incentives. The rewards will be great for them and, most importantly, for the most deserving of our citizens, our military veterans.”
“We applaud President Obama for continuing to lead on this important issue. With new veteran unemployment increasing for the second month in a row, this announcement could not have come at a more critical time. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are coming home to unacceptable levels of joblessness. By offering tax credits to companies that hire veterans, and setting in motion the reverse boot camp announced in August, the New Greatest Generation will have increased opportunities to lead at home,” said IAVA Founder and Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff. “There is no better way to show veterans that Washington really honors their service this Veterans Day (11/11/11) than by unanimously passing this legislation.”
The urgency of creating jobs is highlighted by the fact that one million returning veterans will leave the service and be seeking civilian jobs 2011-16 and the unemployment rate among veterans already outpaces civilians. (All of these services can be accessed by visiting www.whitehouse.gov/vets.)
These are only the latest initiatives on behalf of veterans and military families.
Last year, the Administration put out the word among its various agencies to identify ways they could partner in order toexpand capacity and quality of services in a fiscally responsible way. Among the programs which were introduced last January:
- Health and Human Services (HHS) has partnered with the Department of Defense (DoD) to best confront suicide trends within military family and Veteran populations, to normalize preventive training and peer-level counseling to best treat psychological needs of our military families, and expand access and quality of child care resources.
- Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Labor and HHS have teamed to achieve the aggressive goal of unqualified elimination of homelessness by 2015.
- DoD, Labor, Commerce, and the Small Business Administration are committed to collaboratively engaging corporate America and expanding career opportunities for military spouses.
- Department of Agriculture (USDA) will expand its already rich history of cooperation with the military by co-hosting the Family Resilience Summit in 2011 with DoD and maximizing USDA’s reach to military communities across rural America through its cooperative extension network.
To address the challenges facing military families and in turn generate more effective use of government resources and across society.
- The Department of Education will make supporting military families one of its supplemental priorities for its discretionary grant programs. This priority, when applied, will, for the first time ever, favor grant applications to meet the needs of military students. DoE has also made accessing and processing financial aid more tailored to military families and more sensitive to the financial fluctuations of Guard and Reserve personnel.
- HHS is aggressively promoting awareness across its service provider networks, the media industry, and professional medical organizations on military culture and psychological health of our service members, their spouses and their children.
- The Treasury Department is establishing an Office of Service Member Affairs, led by Holly Petraeus, under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help educate and protect military families from predatory lending and harmful consumer practices.
Agencies were asked to seek out ways in which innovation and sharing best practices can generate resources and reduce barriers.
- The Department of the Interior is making available its facilities on their 500 million acres of Federal lands to military families for recovery, reintegration, and youth employment.
- Treasury, Transportation, Homeland Security, and DoD are accelerating efforts to bring down professional licensing barriers to promote competitive career advancement across states on par with civilian advancement.
Just two weeks ago, Obama used his executive authority to expedite access to health care jobs for returning veterans, including expediting accreditation for military medics as first responders and physicians assistants and incentivizing community health centers to hire 8,000 vets over the next 3 years (see: New Obama initiatives ease access to health care jobs for returning veterans).
At Memorial Day, we mourn those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation.
On Veterans Day, we should do more than honor those who have returned from battle for their service. We should celebrate their life and make sure that for the rest of it, they have every advantage to enjoying peaceful and productive years.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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