Honoring Our Veterans

On November 11, our nation thanks and honors our veterans.   It’s a day to express our gratitude for the many sacrifices that veterans and their families have made in defense of our country and freedom.  This week, as the nation celebrated Veterans Day, the Senate took action to boost the employment prospects of veterans and to ensure that veterans get the resources, support and job training they need when they return home.

The economic challenges facing veterans today are significant.  Nearly 100,000 veterans in Pennsylvania are unemployed.  Nationally, the number of jobless veterans is close to 900,000.  Among those veterans who have left active duty since September 2001, the unemployment rate is 12.1 percent, significantly higher than the unemployment rate for other veterans and the broader population.

A new report from the Joint Economic Committee, which I chair, found that Post-9/11 veterans also face a higher poverty rate than veterans of earlier wars.  In 2010, the poverty rate for Post-9/11 veterans was 12.4 percent, compared to 7.9 percent for veterans of the Gulf War and 7.1 percent for Vietnam veterans.

This higher poverty rate among Post-9/11 veterans results, in large part, due to their younger ages compared to other veterans.  Veterans between the ages of 18 and 34, which account for about 80 percent of Post-9/11 veterans, are 1.5 times more likely to be living in poverty than older veterans between the ages of 35 and 64.

Senate passage this week of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act offers promising news for veterans of all ages and from all wars.  The Senate voted in a bipartisan manner to provide incentives for businesses to hire unemployed veterans.  Under the legislation, firms would receive a $2,400 tax credit for hiring an unemployed veteran, a $5,600 credit for hiring a veteran who has been jobless for six months or more, and up to a $9,600 credit for hiring a veteran with a service-connected disability who has been unemployed for at least six months.

More out-of-work veterans will find jobs and businesses will see their hiring costs reduced. This is an important step in the right direction that will add strength to the economy as we continue to rebuild from the recession. The legislation also expands education and training opportunities by providing 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with up to one year of additional Montgomery GI benefits to go towards education or training programs at community colleges or technical schools. 

While there are many challenges awaiting our veterans as they return home and begin the next chapter of their lives, finding a job is vital to a successful transition to civilian life.  The legislation passed by the Senate will make employment services offered through the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), such as resume-writing workshops and career counseling, more broadly available to service members. 

I had introduced legislation earlier this year calling for an independent audit of the TAP program to ensure that it is providing up-to-date, effective services that are helping to match veterans to employers.   I’m pleased that the VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides that third-party assessment, by calling for an audit of the program every two years by a qualified organization.

There are other steps we should take.  My Help Veterans Own Franchises legislation would help veterans realize the dream of small business ownership.  It promotes business ownership among veterans by providing them with a tax credit of 25 percent of the franchise fee when purchasing a franchise.   I’m continuing to push to get this bill passed.

Strengthening our veterans employment programs will enable veterans to utilize the skills they gained during their service and will help businesses tap the talents of these workers.  The courageous men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country deserve first-rate employment services and accessible job opportunities to help them return to civilian life.  This week, we made progress toward that goal. 

The job ahead is to build on that progress.