Weekly Columns

We Must Remember Our Veterans & Their Sacrifice

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Washington, September 28, 2011 | comments

Last month’s job report showed no new jobs were created, underscoring the reality that businesses are hesitant to hire. This gloomy economic outlook is even worse for the veterans.  To date, there are nearly 1 million unemployed veterans in the United States. 

According to a recent National Federation of Independent Business survey, only seven percent of small business owners expect economic conditions to be better six months from now. Forty-one percent expect them to be worse, and fifty-two percent expect them to be unchanged.  Congress must pass legislation that creates a better environment for job creation, especially among our veterans. 

The men and women who choose to defend this country through military service are making a tremendous sacrifice.  In return, we must protect and care for our veterans when they come home. 

As a veteran and a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, I feel a solemn responsibility to serve those who have served this country in uniform. Along with my colleagues on the committee, I have a goal of reducing veteran unemployment to less than five percent over the next two years.  On September 13, the committee hosted a Veterans Job Summit, which brought together dozens of companies and organizations who shared with us best practices of hiring a veteran in the private sector.

The insights shared at this summit helped the committee craft a series of bills known as the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act.  This bipartisan legislation provides tax incentives to businesses that hire veterans. It also creates training and transition programs for soldiers once they return home, all without increasing spending or adding to the deficit.  The VOW Act consists of seven simple bills, and it is the most comprehensive piece of legislation that addresses veteran unemployment. 

The VOW Act has four main focuses: improving the Transition Assistance Program (TAP); expanding education and training; simplifying licensing and certification; and protecting our National Guard and Reserve.  If it is mandatory for service members transitioning into civilian status to participate in TAP programs, we can ensure they have the tools they need to make a successful transition into the workforce.  VOW will break down the barriers that prevent transitioning service members from finding work, and will improve the quality of life for those who so selflessly serve our country.

The VOW Act not only paves the way for new veterans, but it also accommodates the retraining of 100,000 veterans of past conflicts for careers in high-demand fields.  The legislation sets performance metrics for federally-funded state employees whose job is to find employment for veterans.  Additionally, VOW requires these employees be tested prior to beginning their jobs of veteran placement.  It requires reporting of outcomes for students using the Post-9/11 GI bill so the Department of Veterans’ Affairs can ensure the oversight and success of the programs implemented through this plan.  The bill also reauthorizes several important grants that provide job training for homeless veterans within the Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (HVRP).     

Another important piece of legislation included in the VOW Act is H.R. 2433, the Tax Credit to Hire Veterans Act of 2011. This bill would provide a $25,000 tax incentive to any small business that hires an unemployed veteran.  The Tax Credit to Hire Veterans Act also includes provisions that protect veterans from employers that may be manipulating the system to receive these tax breaks.

Last Monday, I was extremely disappointed to see the president suggest cutbacks in some veterans’ health benefits as one way to tackle our deficit.  The president’s deficit reduction plan would increase pharmacy co-payments for military beneficiaries and establish a $200 annual fee in the military’s Tricare for Life health benefits for Medicare-eligible retirees.  This would mark the first time in history that an annual fee would be charged to Tricare for Life recipients.  While we can all agree that it is time to make difficult budget decisions, it would be a disgrace to make those decisions on the backs of those that devoted and risked their lives in service to our country.

Rest assured, I will continue to fight for legislation to improve the way we care for our veterans.  I will stand firm against increasing health care costs and cutting benefits.  I will remember the vow I took to care for our veterans and remember the sacrifice they made for all of us.    

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