By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2011 – President Barack Obama today announced a series of administration initiatives to help military veterans find jobs.
During remarks at the Navy Yard here, the president proposed a set of tax credits for companies hiring veterans, announced a new task force to develop reforms that will help service members transition to civilian jobs or higher education, and challenged industry to hire more veterans.
“Today's veterans are Americans who have done their duty,” the commander in chief said. “They have fought our wars with valor, from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan.”
As of June, a million veterans were unemployed, and the jobless rate for post-9/11 vets was 13.3 percent, administration officials said. Another million veterans will return to the civilian workforce over the next five years, they said.
Obama cited a former combat medic and a financial specialist as examples of veterans facing difficulties transferring military skills to the civilian market.
Nick Colgin deployed to Afghanistan as a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne Division, Obama said. During his tour, Colgin saved the life of a French soldier who was shot in the head, and helped 42 people escape from a flooding river.
“He earned a Bronze Star for his actions,” the president said. “But when Nick got back home to Wyoming, he couldn't get a job as a first responder.”
Colgin had to take classes he easily could have taught before he could get a civilian job with the same duties he performed daily in Afghanistan, Obama said.
Maria Canales was a financial specialist in the Army who’d served in Iraq and finished a degree in business management when she returned, the president said. Still, she couldn’t find a job in accounting or finance.
“If you can save a life in Afghanistan, you can save a life in an ambulance in Wyoming,” he said. “If you can oversee millions of dollars in assets in Iraq, you can help a business balance its books here at home.”
Government must do more to help veterans transition from military to civilian work, Obama said.
Administration officials said a new task force, led by the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, will develop reforms, including a “reverse boot camp,” to ensure service members receive the training, education, and credentials they need to transition to the civilian workforce or to pursue higher education.
“In addition, we'll make it easier for veterans to go to their local, one-stop career center and get help pursuing a career that fits them best. These steps will help bridge part of the gap between veterans looking for work and companies looking to hire,” the president said.
The Labor Department will establish the centers to deliver career development and job search services to transitioning veterans, administration officials said.
“But that's only part of the equation. The other half is about encouraging companies to do their part,” Obama said.
As incentive to hire veterans, the president proposed a new "Returning Heroes" tax credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans, and an increase in the existing tax credit for hiring disabled veterans.
The Returning Heroes credit would offer a maximum of $2,400 for every short-term and $4,800 for every long-term unemployed veteran hire, officials said.
A “Wounded Warriors” tax credit would increase the existing credit for firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been unemployed for six months or more to a maximum of $9,600 per veteran, and up to $4,800 for all other veterans with a service-connected disability, officials added.
“Finally, we're challenging the private sector to hire or train 100,000 unemployed post-9/11 veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013,” Obama said.
Many companies already have hired or committed to hiring veterans as part of the “Joining Forces” campaign championed by first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, the president said.
“Siemens, for example, recently met their goal of hiring 300 veterans, so they're aiming to hire 150 more by December,” he said. “Microsoft is helping more than 10,000 veterans get IT-certified over the next two years. And, today, groups from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Accenture to Lockheed Martin have all agreed to do their part to help veterans get back in the workforce.”
Joining Forces will lead the veteran-hiring effort with businesses and industry, the president said.
“Today we're saying to our veterans, ‘You fought for us, and now we're fighting for you -- for the jobs and opportunities that you need to keep your families strong and to keep America competitive in the 21st century,’” Obama said. “And at a time when there is so much work to be done in this country, we need everyone's help to do it.”
Also today, the Labor Department announced 23 grants totaling nearly $5.5 million to provide homeless veterans with job training. The grants are being awarded by the department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service through the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program.