ARMY TIMES . . . Broad new bill would fight vet unemployment

By Rick Maze – Staff writer

Posted : Tuesday Apr 20, 2010 16:07:39 EDT

Concerned that the unemployment rate for veterans is high and heading higher, a bipartisan group of senators has introduced a bill to improve job training and placement services.

Building mostly on current transition assistance, vocational training and education programs, the Veterans Employment Act of 2010 is aimed at addressing the 21 percent unemployment rate facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, up from 14.7 percent in 2008.

“Too often, our veterans return home and have their resumes lost in the stack,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the chief sponsor of the bill.

Murray said veterans have unique skills, know how to learn and have “sacrificed so much.”

“We can’t continue to pat veterans on the back for their service and then push them out into the job market alone,” Murray said.

“The last people who should be waiting at the end of the line for a job are the people who served our country,” added Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., one of the bill’s original cosponsors.

Two veterans who are having difficulty getting post-service jobs appeared along with senators at an April 20 press conference outside the U.S. Capitol.

West Point graduate Joe Tyron, an Iraq war veteran who has a master’s degree in health administration, said he has been unemployed for 14 months and is living on savings and disability pay received by his wife, a 100-percent disabled veteran.

Tyron, who lives in Arlington, Va., said he thought his degrees and six years of experience would help him find work, but employers are looking for people with experience in civilian health care administration, not in leading troops in combat.

Former Army Reserve Sgt. Jason Hansman, another Iraq veteran who managed civil works projects in Iraq, said he sent out hundreds of resumes and applied for every job he could find, but the only interview came after five months of searching — and that was as a night shift security guard.

“I thought it would be easy to come back and find a job,” he said.

Security guard was not the job he wanted, but Hansman took it because he was a newlywed who needed an income. Meanwhile, he continued searching for another job. He recently was hired as the online community manager for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

The bill, introduced Wednesday and not yet assigned a number, takes six different approaches to improving veterans’ employment:

• It sets the stage for an overhaul of transition assistance classes given to separating and retiring service members, ordering a study to be followed within about six months by upgrades and updates.

One thing that can go is the Power Point briefings used in the transition assistance classes, said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, one of the cosponsors. The briefing now includes 130 slides, he said, “and after 40 to 50 you probably are not paying attention.”

Transition classes, which became standard at the end of the Cold War, are outdated and considered ineffective by many veterans, Murray said. The program “doesn’t work with today’s businesses that are hiring. It should,” she said.

  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill would be expanded to include apprenticeships and worker training programs, allowing veterans to receive both tuition help and living stipends.
  • Pilot transition programs would be authorized to see if veterans with some specific skills, such as computer specialists, medics and other health care workers, could quickly be placed in civilian jobs with little or no additional training. Klobuchar said getting military medics qualified as paramedics would be of particular assistance in rural areas where there are shortages of emergency medical people.\
  • The National Guard Employment Enhancement Project would be expanded to provide transition assistance to more demobilizing Guard members at locations near their homes.
  • Grants would be provided for two programs to help train veterans for environmentally conscious jobs. Up to $250,000 would be available to states creating a veterans conservation corps or a veterans green jobs program. The programs would teach skills and provide job referrals for people who complete training.
  • An existing program aimed at helping veterans and reservists open small businesses would be expanded, with more standardized training and counseling provided by the Small Business Administration. “We know veterans, when they open up their own businesses, hire veterans,” Murray said.

In addition to Murray, Klobuchar and Begich, other cosponsors of the bill include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin, D-Ill.; and Sens. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The measure is being referred to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee for consideration, but other Senate committees might end up with jurisdiction over some parts of the sweeping proposal. Shared jurisdiction could delay consideration of the bill, but Murray said having some high-powered cosponsors and support from major military and veterans groups will help in getting quick action.

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