Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Chairman, Full Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This hearing will come to order.
Let me get right to the heart of what this hearing is about. 60,000 veterans were added to the unemployment rolls in June. That brought the total number of America’s out-of-work veterans to over 1 million – a staggering figure. It is that fact alone that brings us here today to accomplish one goal. Namely, to put America’s veterans back to work.
Having a job provides a sense of self-worth and accomplishment. It is our workforce that makes America strong. It makes us exceptional, and it also averts many of the perils that befall our societies, such as homelessness. It is therefore incumbent upon us all to find solutions and act.
Otherwise reaching goals such as eliminating homelessness among veterans will be next to impossible if we don’t reduce unemployment at the same time. There is no better preventive measure than a good-paying job.
We have already set in place the building blocks for many of today’s veterans. Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, eligible veterans are getting college degrees, enrolling in on-the-job training programs, and training in specialized fields such as aviation in higher numbers than ever before. Nevertheless, the breadth of the joblessness problem in today’s economy leads me to the conclusion that additional steps are needed.
To that end, I believe we must advance proposals which embrace certain fundamental objectives.
First, we must re-evaluate programs that are meant to acquaint our veterans with the civilian workforce. We owe it to these men and women, and every taxpayer, to ensure that these programs are effective and that measures are in place to gauge their viability. If they do not work, we must find programs that will.
Second, we must give unemployed veterans of past wars temporary access to education programs to acquire skills, especially in fields with a shortage of workers, such as technology and health care. Two-thirds of our unemployed veterans are between the ages of 35 and 64, and many face skills and training deficits.
Veterans of past conflicts are more likely to face significant financial obligations such as mortgages and college tuition for their children. Imagine looking forward to retirement, only to have to begin again.
Third, we must enforce the job protections in place for veterans, especially those who serve in the National Guard and Reserve— 14 percent of whom are currently unemployed.
Fourth, we must work with the states to eliminate the regulations that hinder job growth. Our veterans have skills that are of value in the private sector and are being wasted due to unduly burdensome laws and regulations across the states.
It is time for the states to recognize the quality of military training and the power of reciprocity.
We cannot do this in a vacuum, however. We have an obligation to these men and women, and to all Americans, to decrease our debt, lower taxes that impede growth, and assure employers, especially the small businesses that are the engine of our economy and that produce 40 percent of new jobs, that help and leadership is on the way.
The Veterans Opportunity to Work Act (the VOW Act), which I have introduced, is my attempt at a comprehensive solution. It embraces all of the objectives I have just outlined. The VOW Act critically evaluates existing programs to ensure they are effective.
It focuses retraining assistance for veterans of past conflicts, who have fewer options available to them.
It strengthens re-employment rights to Guard and Reserve members. And it seeks to eliminate licensing and credentialing barriers preventing veterans from immediately applying skills learned in the military to a civilian job here at home.
Furthermore, recognizing that America’s small businesses, many of which are veteran-owned, are suffering more today than other companies, I have also introduced legislation that would provide small businesses with a tax credit toward the purchase of capital equipment for every unemployed veteran they hire.
Again, we must think outside the box to solve this problem, and H.R. 2433, the VOW Act, is my starting point.
We have two other bills on the agenda that will round out our discussion this morning. First is H.R. 1941, introduced by our colleague from Georgia and former Member of this Committee, Sanford Bishop, and then we have H.R. 169 introduced by Congressman Stearns.
So, without further delay, let’s get to work.
I now recognize the distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Filner for any opening remarks he may have.