In a rare show of bipartisanship, the Obama administration and Congress have agreed on one element of the president’s jobs plan: new legislation to address the high unemployment rate of America’s young veterans.
On Nov. 21, 2011, the president signed into law a bill with tax benefits for businesses that hire veterans. It also would mandate transition services such as career counseling for warfighters as they prepare to leave the armed forces.
The legislation was a priority for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), which has decried the high unemployment rate among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and face challenges in this economy. “It’s practical, bipartisan and long overdue,” said Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA president.
About 12 percent of veterans are unemployed, a rate above the nation’s jobless rate, according to the U.S. Labor Department. But rates are significantly higher among young male veterans ages 18 to 24 who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. These men had an unemployment rate of 22 percent in 2010, the department reported.
State-by-state data show some jobless rates that are even higher, particularly among those just returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan, IAVA says.
In Michigan, a state hard hit by the recession, unemployment among new veterans has reached 29 percent, the association says. Indiana, Minnesota, Montana and Tennessee all have jobless rates above 20 percent.
In a down job market, veterans also have challenges in showing employers how their military experience relates to work outside the armed forces.
“It was challenging looking for a job in the private sector because I didn’t know how they were going to perceive my experience in the military,” said Army veteran Maria Canales. An IAVA member, Canales was a financial management specialist who served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
“I couldn’t translate my military skills well enough to enable me to get a job until just a few weeks ago.”
Called the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, the bill seeks to aid those facing similar barriers as Canales. It would provide a variety of tax credits for employers, with the largest – $9,600 – available to firms that hire veterans with service-related disabilities who are unemployed at least six months. The bill also would:
- provide a tax credit up to $5,600 for businesses that hire veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months;
- offer a credit up to $2,400 for businesses that hire veterans who have been unemployed for one to six months; and
- expand benefits to older veterans from past conflicts by providing a year of additional aid under the Montgomery GI Bill for education and training programs at community colleges or trade schools.
In addition, the measure would make mandatory the Transition Assistance Program for those about to leave the military. This program includes career counseling, resume-writing workshops and other services.
Disabled veterans also could receive an additional year of vocational rehabilitation under the bill, which drew strong support in both the House and Senate.