Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Help Wanted: Legislative Initiatives to Employ Veterans

Unemployment for returning veterans is a serious issue facing service members, and Congress is beginning to pay attention as these unemployment rates climb higher than the general population’s. In August the Department of Labor reported a 30 percent unemployment rate for veterans between the ages of 18 to 24 years old, many of whom are Guard and Reserve members. The White House and Congressional leadership from both parties are seeking to address the problem. This last week saw an increase in activity on veterans’ employment, and the Reserve Officers Association was invited to participate in three different events on the issue.

On Monday, ROA attended a Veterans Employment Summit hosted by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. This event brought together representatives from 28 companies from across the United States to share practices, suggestions for, and issues with hiring veterans. These companies, whose representation included Wal-Mart, Booz Allen Hamilton, Sears, and Edison Electric, among others, discussed their desire to hire veterans, as well as the struggles and successes they have found in doing so.

The consensus among the organizations represented was that hiring veterans is an important and valuable practice. A veteran’s job skills, work-ethic, and commitment to service are desirable traits to these companies and many have already begun developing practices to more easily recruit and retain these employees. Enthusiasm among the companies for hiring veterans was in no short supply at the summit, but participants did use the time to voice their concerns and struggles with successfully hiring veterans. Companies found it difficult to find veteran resumes on their online databases, and some also found that veteran job candidates in some cases choose to not include their military service on resumes. In keeping with those concerns, companies found that there is some difficulty among veterans and employers in translating military service experience into practical job skills that are desirable in the work force. Veterans, though they may have the skills from military service to be successful in a certain employment position find it difficult to translate those skills to a resume, while employers have the same difficulty translating the skills from military experience that is included on a resume.

ROA also participated in a White House conference call Wednesday on the Veterans Hiring Initiative and the American Jobs Act. The White House invited a number of military service organizations and non-profit organizations who might be hiring to discuss the elements of veteran job initiatives in the President’s Job Act. The bill provides a tax credit of $2,400 for companies hiring veterans who have been unemployed for more than four weeks. The credit increases to $5,600 if the veteran has been unemployed over six months. Employers, who hire a wounded warrior who has been unemployed for at least 6 months and has a service-connected disability, are eligible for a tax credit that doubles from $4,800 to $9,600.

While on the call, ROA Legislative Director, CAPT Marshall Hanson, USNR (ret.) questioned White House staffers on how they would define “veteran” for the purpose of employment benefits in the President’s jobs bill. Staffers answered that the administration would remain as currently in the IRS Code, unless Congress chooses how to redefine “veteran” in the new bill. IRS Code defines an unemployed veteran for this tax credit as one who:

  • Has been discharged or released from active duty in the US. Armed Forces at any time during the 5-year period ending on the hiring date

  • Received unemployment compensation under state or federal law for at least 4 weeks during the 1-year period ending on the hiring date.

To be considered a veteran, the applicant must have served on active duty (not including training) in the Armed Forces of the United States for more than 180 days or have been discharged or released from active duty for a service connected disability.

While ROA worked with Senate offices on the original tax credit legislation that the President now wants to amend, we have also advocated for a broader definition of veteran.

To round out the week, ROA was invited to participate in a round table discussion with the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee to discuss job creation, transition to civilian life, women veterans, and the G.I. Bill. The meeting was lead by Senator Mark Begich (Alaska) and was attended by a number of Veterans Services Organizations. Senators Jon Tester (Mont.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) also joined the meeting. Senators encouraged organizational support of the President’s job act.

At this meeting, organizations were allowed to express their concerns over veterans’ employment, made suggestions to the committee for aspects of legislation to assist in employing veterans, and challenged Congress to make a veterans employment bill the first jobs bill of the 112th Congress. Existing Senate legislation was highlighted by groups, the most frequent being mentioned was S. 951, Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, introduced by Senator Patty Murray (Wash.) ROA followed up comments with a written statement.

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