Earlier today, President Obama unveiled his latest initiative to reduce veteran unemployment: a $6 billion jobs corps program which, if approved by Congress, will create opportunities for returning service members to serve their country in a new capacity — as policemen, firefighters, and employees of the National Park Service.
In addition, General Eric Shinseki, the Secretary of the Department of Veteran Affairs and himself a wounded war veteran, announced that the Small Business Administration will begin offering online entrepreneurial training courses to veterans and their families.
These initiatives are the latest example of the Obama administration’s deep and ongoing commitment to taking care of our men and women in uniform, even as they transition out of the service. Since coming into office, President Obama has substantially increased funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is the VA that assumes responsibility for service members as they leave the force and transition back to civilian life, and its programs will only become more essential as more men and women return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Last November, Obama signed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, which provides companies with a substantial tax credit if they hire unemployed or disabled veterans. And the President has also used his executive authority to establish a national Veterans Job Bank, authorize 6-months of career counseling at locations across the country, and create My Next Move, an online database that helps connect veterans with jobs that build off their military experience.
Perhaps most importantly, President Obama, the first lady, and Dr. Jill Biden have brought public attention to the problem of veteran unemployment and the valuable skills that our service members possess. All the president and his administration have done to highlight this issue appears to have prompted employers to take a second look.
As a result of the President’s policy, the jobless rate among post-9/11 veterans — as this blog noted earlier today — fell four percent in January, from 13.1 percent in December to 9.1 percent today. This is a tremendous improvement from one year ago, when the unemployment rate for these veterans stood at about 15 percent. And the initiatives announced by President Obama today will continue to target veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, who suffer from unemployment rates significantly higher than those facing the broader veteran population.
President Obama has made much progress in tackling veteran unemployment. But much work remains to be done. The unemployment rate for veterans under the age of 25 is nearly 30 percent, more than twice the rate of civilians their age.
Moreover, with the war in Iraq over and U.S. involvement in Afghanistan coming to a close, the Pentagon has announced that it plans to reduce the ground forces to near their pre-war levels. This process will entail shedding about 100,000 ground troops, a move that will further increase the number of service members looking for civilian jobs.
Over the past decade, in the name of supporting our troops, Congress has steadfastly passed war supplemental after war supplemental. But it is imperative that this support does not end when our men and women in uniform come home. Congress should approve President Obama’s veterans jobs corps and allow these men and women who have served so admirably overseas to reinvest their efforts at home.