Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Hon. Bruce Braley, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity
First, I would like to thank Major General Timothy Orr, The Adjutant General of the Iowa National Guard and Dick Rue, State Chair of Iowa ESGR for joining us to testify in this hearing today. I know they have both been hard at work trying to decrease unemployment among returning Iowa National Guard and Reserve Members.
In October, Chairman Stutzman and I traveled to Waterloo, Iowa, and Ft. Wayne, Indiana to hear first-hand about unemployment issues from veterans and Guard and Reserve Members. One of the things we kept hearing was the need to help service members translate their military skills to the civilian jobs they were seeking, as well as getting assistance in interview techniques.
Over 600,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve have been mobilized since the attacks of September 11, 2001, and nearly 15,000 Iowa National Guard members have served their country at home and across the world in that same time period. Just this past summer, 2,800 Iowa National Guard Members returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. This means that thousands of individuals volunteered to leave their jobs to serve their country, with the uncertainty of knowing what would be waiting for them once they returned.
Coming home after fighting overseas is difficult enough, but veterans often struggle to find good-paying jobs after leaving the service. It is estimated that approximately one out of every four combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are out-of-work. That’s unacceptable. Fortunately, progress is being made. Because of the work of various organizations in Iowa, the unemployment rate for recently returned Iowa National Guard Members has dropped considerably, from around 25% in August to around 10% today. And I expect that this rate will continue to drop because of their efforts.
The uncertainty of knowing when a deployment will occur can affect employment. Our Reservists and Guardsmen are a pool of talented and dedicated individuals - men and women who have an education and real-world employment experience. These warriors have full-time civilian jobs while they proudly serve on the weekends. They return from deployment to their civilian jobs, only to face the reality of being deployed once again, which can be emotionally draining for our troops and their families.
According to the statements made during the field hearings in October, some National Guard members deemphasized their service to their country because of fears that employers would not want to hire them, knowing they could be deployed at any minute. They did not want to discourage prospective employers from hiring them. Although the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) provides protections from employment discrimination based on military service, some Reserve members have lost their employment.
It is our responsibility to create a culture where all American businesses recognize the important service of their employees who have answered the call to duty. Employers are vital to empowering employees who are members of the National Guard and Reserves. We want all of our veterans to succeed and we want their employers to do well also. Employers’ support and encouragement allow these warriors to serve their country without the concern of losing their job or being unemployed when they return home.
Men and women who’ve put their lives on the line for our country deserve to have every opportunity when they return home. This hearing will help us find better ways to open new doors for veterans, particularly Iowa National Guard and Reserve members who have recently returned from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.