Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hiring Heroes Act of 2011

Patty Murray

Wednesday, Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, held a news conference in DC. Among those taking part in the conference were US Senators Mark Begich, Chris Coons and Jon Tester as well as Iraq War veteran Eric Smith. Smith noted, "During my tours, I gained valuable experience in the medical field under extreme conditions. Despite my knowledge and service, I'm struggling to find a job today. And I'm not alone. Our current struggles are not unique to my circumstances. More than 200,000 Iraq-Afghanistan veterans are unemployed or under employed in today's economy."

Murray has been drawing attention to this issue for some time. In February 2006, Les Blumenthal (McClatchy Newspapers) quoted her explaining, "We have been in this situation for three years and all the VA [Veterans Administration] says is they will look at it. When soldiers return home, they need to return home to a job." In March of last year, Patricia Murphy (KUOW) was reporting the senator was in Seattle for a roundtable on veterans unemployment. There was a great deal between the two reports and a great deal after but nothing has worked, unemployment among young veterans, as Murray noted Wednesday, currently stands at 27%.

In part, that's due to the Great Recession which has resulted in high unemployment for all. But it's more than just that. Wednesday, Murray spoke of hearing "first-hand from the veterans that we've failed to provide better job support to. I've had veterans tell me that they no longer write the fact that they're a veteran on their resume because they fear the stigma that they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war. I've heard from medics who return home from treating battlefield wounds who can't get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance. I've talked to veteran after veteran who've said they didn't have to go through the military's job skills training program, or that they were never taught how to use the vernacular of the business world to describe the benefits of their experience." And all that she cited gets at the need for a mandatory solution.

We're not big on mandatory things. We think life comes with more than enough of them already and that Congress should be addressing expanding our freedoms (how about overturning the Patriot Act now -- or is the refusal to do that a confession that Osama bin Laden's death really means nothing?).

But we do support the mandatory aspect of Murray's Hiring Heroes Act of 2011.

We think it has to be mandatory to be successful and we feel that way based on the many stories shared with us and those shared in public about returning service members. How you're gathered in a large group and told there's help available if you have 'emotional' problems, but nobody has 'emotional' problems, right? In other words, the VA's been able to avoid issues like PTSD by demonizing and ridiculing them when they should be providing treatment.

We can see something similar happening with the military's job skills training program. Wait. See it happening? It's already happening which is why Murray could state, in the news conference, "Today, nearly one-third of those leaving the Army don't get this training."

There are a lot of programs the military offers. There's a real problem getting the word out. In some instances, such as PTSD, it's hard to draw any conclusion either than the military wants to keep the numbers down. Making the program mandatory means it falls back on superiors if veterans aren't getting access to these programs.

Senator Murray's office notes the bill would do the following: A Look at What The Government is Doing and What More Can be Done This bill authorizes ongoing services we are providing and modifies programs for veterans.

 Modifies federal hiring practices to encourage the hiring of separating servicemembers and would allow servicemembers to begin the federal employment hiring process prior to separation;

 Makes participation in the Transition Assistance Program mandatory for separating servicemembers;

 Requires that each servicemember receive an individualized assessment of jobs they may qualify for when they participate in the Transition Assistance Program;

 Requires DoL to engage with each veteran on a periodic basis to determine whether the veteran is employed or whether the veteran might be interested in further assistance;

 Continues a program that provides rehabilitation and vocational benefits to severely wounded members of the armed forces;

 Provides up to an additional 24 months of vocational rehabilitation and employment services to veterans who have exhausted both these benefits and state-provided unemployment benefits;

 Requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to engage with each veteran who has participated in its Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program periodically to determine whether the veteran is employed.
Innovative Programs to Prepare Veterans to Transition into Civilian Life This bill authorizes new programs aimed at improving the transition from servicemember to civilian employee.

 Creates a competitive grant program for nonprofit organizations that provide mentorship and job training programs that are designed to lead to job placements;

 Requires the Department of Defense (DoD), DoL, and VA to jointly contract for a study to identify the equivalencies between certain military occupational specialty (MOS)-related skills and civilian employment;

 Allows DoD to create a pilot program to provide paid work experience with civilian employees and contractors to facilitate the transition for servicemembers that are 180 days from separating;

 Requires DoL, DoD, and VA collaboration to eliminate barriers between military training and civilian licensure or credentialing for several military occupational specialties.
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