Bipartisan bill aims to boost hiring for veterans

By Tom Philpott

As Veterans’ Day approached, peace descended long enough on a bitterly divided Congress to reach a deal that could help military veterans, in multiple ways, find decent jobs in a tough economy.

On Monday, President Barack Obama appeared in the Rose Garden with representatives of veterans groups and all but dared Republicans to reject another initiative from his American Jobs Act, in this case $95 million worth of tax credits, through 2015, for employers who hire post-Sept. 11 veterans.

The president also unveiled new administrative initiatives to help jobless post-Sept. 11 vets find work, including personalized job search services for up to six months through Department of Labor career centers.

Not long after Obama’s press conference ended, the chairmen of House and Senate veteran affairs committees announced a bipartisan deal to support those employer tax credits and a lot more to cut vet unemployment.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate committee, and Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., House committee chairman, unveiled the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act.” It combines provisions of Murray’s Hiring Heroes Act (S 951) and Miller’s Veterans Opportunity to Work Act (HR 2433) with Obama’s tax credits, originally conceived by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

•The Returning Heroes Tax Credit offers businesses a tax credit of up to $5,600 for each hiring of a post-9/11 veteran who has been looking for a job for more than six months. A tax credit of $2,400 would be allowed for hiring veterans who have been unemployed for more than four weeks.

The Wounded Warriors Tax Credit would provide a tax credit of up to $9,600 to hire post-Sept. 11 veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.

Key features of the combined bill Murray championed includes:

•• Mandatory attendance at an improved Transition Assistance Program for most service members moving into civilian life, with upgraded career counseling options and resume writing help at a cost of $11 million over five years.

• Service members interested in federal civilian jobs could begin the application process before separation from service to ease their transition to jobs at the departments of Defense, Veteran Affairs, Homeland Security or other federal agencies that welcome their military experience.

Features of the combined bill that Miller championed include:

•• Giving up to 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars up to one year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits at community colleges or technical schools to help them qualify for jobs in high-demand sectors “from trucking to technology” at a cost of $1.5 billion over three years.

• Up to one year of additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefit for severely disabled veterans.

• The Department of Labor will study military skills and training to determine what “should be translatable” to civilian jobs and then work to make it easier for veterans to get licenses and certifications they need.

Murray planned to attach the combined veterans job bill as amendment to HR 674, a House-passed bill to repeal an onerous 3 percent tax withholding requirement on government contractors. The combined bill has passed in the Senate and will now be shepherded by Miller through the House to reach the president after the Veterans Day weekend.

To cover the cost of the veteran jobs package, Murray and Miller agreed to a provision that will keep in place higher VA loan guarantee fees for veterans who re-use home loan benefits a second time or more. The higher fees, set in 2003, were to expire but will be extended through 2016.

In a speech to colleagues urging swift passage, Murray said society’s failure to provide jobs for returning veterans often plays a crucial role in instances of suicide, substance abuse and homelessness.

Jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistic for October show an unemployment rate of 12.1 percent for post-Sept. 11 veterans versus a jobless rate of 8.4 percent for non-veterans age 18 and older. The jobless rate for post-Sept. 11 veterans a year ago was 10.6 percent.

Veterans from all eras were doing better, however. The overall unemployment rate for veterans was 7.7 percent in October, down from 8.3 percent a year ago.

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