America's one million unemployed veterans will soon get a much-needed boost in the job market with expanded education, training and transition assistance, thanks to an American Legion-backed bill passed by the Senate on Nov. 10. The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 also provides tax credits to businesses that hire veterans who are out of work — $5,600 for each veteran and $9,600 for each disabled veteran.
"This legislation will go a long way in helping our veterans get decent jobs," said Fang A. Wong, national commander of The American Legion. "It falls in line with initiatives we supported in my testimony before Congress last September – a mandatory transition assistance program, job training for older veterans, and private-sector recognition of military skills and training."
Wong said that Congress has honored America's veterans in a way "that really makes a difference" by passing such important legislation the day before Veterans Day. "We applaud the leadership of Senator Murray and Representative Miller in creating a piece of legislation that addresses some of the factors that are stopping our veterans from getting jobs."
When troops come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, Wong said, "The last thing they need is to file for unemployment benefits. They've been working hard as medics, truck drivers, mechanics, and a variety of other jobs with civilian counterparts.
"The government and private sector need to step up and give them work opportunities they deserve. This is what the Legion has been fighting for, and Congress has delivered an impressive set of tools that our veterans can use to earn a living."
The VOW to Hire Heroes Act, once signed into law, will boost employment opportunities for veterans. Key provisions include:
•Tax credit of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, as well as a $2,400 credit for veterans who are unemployed for more than four weeks, but less than six months.
• Tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.
• Makes the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) — an interagency workshop coordinated by the departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs — mandatory for servicemembers moving on to civilian life to help them secure meaningful jobs through resume-writing workshops and career counseling.
• Expands education and training opportunities for older veterans by providing 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with up to one year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits for education or training programs at community colleges and technical schools.
• Provides disabled veterans up to one year of additional vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits.
• Allows servicemembers to start looking for federal jobs before separating from active duty in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs at federal agencies.
"For too long, at the end of their career we patted our veterans on the back for their service and then pushed them out into the job market alone," said Murray. "The VOW to Hire Heroes Act will give our veterans the job skills to get their foot in the door and incentivize employers to make sure that door is open to them."
According to Tim Tetz, the Legion's legislative director, provisions of the bill "are fully paid for with funding from VA Home Loan programs and other savings within the department."
The unemployment rate for about a quarter-million veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan stands at 12.1 percent. Of the estimated one million jobless veterans in America, two-thirds of them fall within the 35-64 age group.
"About one in 12 veterans can't find a job in this country. And yet, the Department of Labor tells us there are more than three million job openings right now," Wong said. "They say employers are having trouble finding workers with enough skills and training.
"Do we have to draw them a picture? They should all be hiring well-trained, disciplined individuals who work well with a team and accomplish the goals they're given — in other words, they should be hiring veterans."