TUESDAY, AUG. 16, 2011

Outside view: Private sector is critical in efforts to ease vets into jobs

This commentary from the Olympian (Olympia, Wash.) does not necessarily reflect the view of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board.

Over the next five years, more than 1 million service members are expected to leave the military as the war in Iraq ends and the war in Afghanistan winds down. Most of those exiting the military will be young men looking for work. For many of them, previous work experiences are in job sectors hard hit by the economic recession, including construction, transportation and manufacturing.

Without a concerted public-private partnership to help veterans find jobs and embark on new careers, individuals, families and society as a whole will pay a huge cost in unemployment, homelessness, mental health issues and more. The last thing this nation needs is a generation of unemployed young veterans. There are signs it’s already starting to happen.

For instance, Department of Labor data has estimated the unemployment rate has been as high as 27 percent for veterans ages 20 to 24. And, as recently as June, the unemployment ranks included about 1 million veterans and the jobless rate for veterans who have left the military in the past 10 years was about 13.3 percent.

The mounting unemployment problem facing veterans is not lost on Congress. The Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 is a bipartisan measure in the Senate co-sponsored by 32 senators. It cleared the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, chaired by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., early this summer and is slated for a Senate floor vote this fall.

The bill would, among other things, ensure that all service members leaving the military participate in the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program. The program, which provides training in resumé writing, interview skills and information on job searches, would go from voluntary to mandatory. In addition, it would make it easier for service members with specific skill sets to get certification in similar civilian programs.

In a recent visit to the Washington Navy Yard, President Barack Obama challenged the private sector to commit to hiring or training 100,000 unemployed veterans and their spouses over the next 30 months. As an incentive, the president is calling for two new hiring tax credits for firms that hire unemployed veterans. He would also double the existing tax credit for businesses that hire veterans with military-related disabilities.

These tax credits should be approved by Congress.

None of the federal initiatives will amount to a hill of beans without strong participation by the private sector. There are several examples of businesses, large and small, that have embraced the challenge. They include Microsoft, which will offer 10,000 training and certification packages to U.S. military veterans over two years, working with the Department of Labor. Honeywell has a goal this year of placing 500 veterans in jobs at the company’s four businesses, and Siemens expects to hire 450 veterans by the end of the year.

These are but a few examples of the public and private initiatives that will be so critical to military veterans making the transition into what is already a challenging workforce.

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