There are approximately 23 million living veterans in America. The most recent statistics available for North Carolina estimates the veteran population to be around 766,000. Here in Ashe County, there are roughly 2,500 vets.
Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, nearly 3 million men and women have volunteered for military service. With the economy still sputtering towards recovery, the national unemployment rate has been hovering around 9 percent, but the jobless rate for vets is about 12 percent. In a recent commentary, retired Army General Erik K. Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, pointed out that more than 870,000 young veterans are currently unemployed and as troops return home from Iraq and Afghanistan, another one million vets are likely to leave military service and look for jobs during the next five years. As Shinseki put it, “These soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coast guardsmen left their families and risked their lives to fight for our freedoms overseas. They should not have to fight for a job when they come home.”
The Obama Administration has been trying to help our unemployed veteran population find work. The American Jobs Act, that was blocked in the Senate last month, contained two key provisions for veterans that were sponsored by Senator Kay Hagan of NC and Senator Scott Brown of MA. The first would’ve created a $5,600 Returning Heroes Tax Credit for small business owners that hired veterans who have been unemployed for at least six months. The second included increasing the existing Wounded Warriors Tax Credit up to $9,600 per veteran for businesses that hire long-time unemployed vets with service-connected disabilities. As Shinseki further explained, veterans start more than 100,000 small businesses each year and another 300,000 vets choose self-employment. These provisions would not only help veteran-owned small businesses, but also help all small businesses in America. A new amendment just introduced, the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011,” contains similar provisions and earlier this week it appeared this legislation has enough bipartisan support that it may pass Congressional muster. In my opinion, this action is long overdue.
With the American Jobs Act stalled in Congress, President Obama unveiled his “We Can’t Wait” campaign last month where he’s rolling out initiatives through executive challenges or by executive order that are intended to spur job growth. One such challenge urges federally funded community health centers to hire 8,000 veterans over the next three years. Another initiative includes plans to expand the opportunity for military medics to transition to physician assistants by giving priority grants to colleges and universities that will train vets for such careers. Although these initiatives are welcomed, much more needs to be done.
As Secretary Shinseki points out, the 9/11generation of veterans has been a force for good: driving the Taliban off the battlefield, capturing Saddam Hussein, routing Al-Qaeda from its safe havens, bringing justice to Osama bin Laden and Anwar Al-Awlaki, assisting in the ouster of Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, and helping train Iraqi and Afghan forces to defend their countries. They merit more than words of gratitude as they come home and transition back into civilian life; they deserve employment.
Today when you see a veteran from any generation, please extend your hand and thank him or her for their service. In addition, I urge you to please contact Representative Foxx (Clemmons: 336-778-0211; Boone: 828-265-0240), Senator Burr (Winston-Salem: 336-631-5125) and Senator Hagan (Greensboro: 336-333-5311) and tell them focus on legislation, without further delay, that helps get our unemployed veterans back to work.
Ken Lynn is a retired USAF colonel and is an adjunct online instructor with the USAF Air University.