WASHINGTON – Democrats and Republicans rarely agree on anything in the nation’s capital, but there’s a growing bipartisan sense on Capitol Hill that the private sector will have to do much more to help Congress ease chronically high unemployment among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In August, President Barack Obama called on the nation’s businesses to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans by the end of 2013, a challenge that Microsoft answered with a pledge to train 10,000 of them.
Now, as part of his $447 billion jobs package, Obama wants Congress to approve a plan that would provide businesses a tax credit of $2,400 to $9,600 for each veteran they hire, depending on whether they’re disabled and how long they’ve been unemployed.
One million veterans already are unemployed and more than a million are expected to leave the military by 2016. Julius Clemente, a 33-year-old Iraq veteran from Kirkland, Wash., told a congressional panel Thursday that there will be “systematic chaos” if more of them can’t find jobs or get help going to college.
“The path we now face from the military to college – life is more complicated and challenging than what I thought,” Clemente told lawmakers.
Congress appears eager to respond, although there’s no consensus on a specific plan.
At a meeting of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the committee’s chairman, called veterans “the most employable group of people in the world.”
“They know how to show up for work on time, they’ve got tremendous skills, and they have great attitudes,” she said. “And they have just so much to offer to our country.”
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, the top-ranked Republican on the panel, said veterans “can’t be that valuable to this country and not that valuable to American business.”
“We’ve just got to find a way to highlight that to corporate America,” he said.
Many members of Congress have long sympathized with returning veterans who have difficulty transferring their skills to civilian jobs, often because it’s difficult for them to get the necessary certifications, even if their skills are similar.
Clemente, a naturalized U.S. citizen who’s a native of the Philippines, served seven years in the military and was honorably discharged in 2005 after serving in Iraq. He enlisted in the Navy as a hospital corpsman and worked at a naval hospital in Japan, but he said he could not find a comparable job in the United States after he left the military.
“My certification, my experience in the military, faces a difficult challenge of transferring over to the civilian side,” he said.
In 2007, Clemente enrolled in Bellevue College, where he helped form a group that supports other veterans. After graduating this year, he has a job as a medical assistant.
“I’d like to one day practice medicine and help veterans and foreign immigrants … in Washington state,” he told the committee members.
Murray, who became the committee’s chairman in January, said the federal government needs to step up its training efforts for veterans. In June, the committee passed a bill introduced by Murray called the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, which for the first time would require the government to provide job-skills training for all service members before they return home.
“We take a lot of time to train our military to be in the military, but we take no time to train them to be a civilian again,” Murray said.