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Vowing to act for veterans

Jul 15, 2011

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. That is why I have introduced the Veteran Opportunity to Work Act of 2011 (H.R. 2433), or the VOW Act. All of us have an obligation to find solutions to get America’s veterans back to work. These men and women have defended our nation, only to return home to stand in an unemployment line. That is not the homecoming we promised them.

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 averts perils such as homelessness – and the best prescription is meaningful employment. Veterans have the leadership, integrity and ingenuity employers often seek. But in today’s job market, there is a disconnect translating the experiences that hail from the battlefield to Main Street USA.

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 requires that more must be done.

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 eliminate them and find ones 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 that produces 40 percent of new jobs, that help and leadership is on the way.

The VOW Act is the most comprehensive solution to address the range of impediments to reducing veteran unemployment. In addition, we must also recognize that America’s small businesses, many of which are veteran-owned, are suffering more today than other companies. Therefore to complement the pillars outlined in the VOW Act, 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 (H.R. 2443).

We have the opportunity to have the most qualified and desirable veteran workforce since World War II. But we must vow to act today.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) is the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.