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Editorial | Island Voices

Veterans need jobs, too

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    President Obama's proposed American Jobs Act contains provisions aimed at helping U.S. military veterans get jobs or start businesses of their own. In February, Anthony Villarreal, above, held a flag given to him during a ceremony in Lubbock, Texas. A 2008 IED attack in Afghanistan left him with third-degree burns over nearly 70 percent of his body. His face is disfigured, his right hand gone, his left hand missing fingers.

Nearly 3 million men and women have volunteered to serve in our armed forces since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 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.

That is why the president has championed the American Jobs Act, and why the Congress should pass his plan with urgent speed. It will help our veterans, who are just back from war, find a job. And it will give strength and stability to American families and communities.

For our veterans and their families, this is essential. This 9/11 generation has been a formidable force for good — driving the Taliban from the battlefield in 2002, capturing Saddam Hussein, routing al-Qaida from its sanctuaries, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, bringing an end to Anwar al-Aulaki’s terrorist rant, and training Iraqi and Afghan forces to defend their own countries.

They remain clear-eyed, dedicated and disciplined in their service. They are skilled leaders, and a decade of war has not bowed them. But, too often, they face a daunting task in finding a job once they leave the military.

Right now, more than 870,000 young veterans are unemployed. During the next five years, as troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan, an additional 1 million veterans are likely to leave the armed forces and look for jobs at home.

To help them transition, the American Jobs Act would create up to a $5,600 Returning Heroes Tax Credit for small businesses that hire veterans who have been out of work for more than six months. The American Jobs Act also includes an increase in the existing Wounded Warriors Tax Credit of up to $9,600 per veteran for firms that hire veterans, who have service-connected disabilities and who have been unemployed for a long time.

Each year, veterans start more than 100,000 small businesses, and an additional 300,000 veterans choose self-employment. The American Jobs Act would provide critical assistance not only to these veteran-owned small businesses but also to every small business in America, cutting their taxes and providing an incentive to expand their workforce and increase the wages of their employees.

Veterans hire veterans, so VA is following the president’s lead by expanding opportunities for veteran-owned small businesses. In August, VA conducted our National Veteran-owned Small Business Exposition. This training conference provided an unprecedented opportunity for veteran small business owners to build capacity, grow their businesses, and connect directly with VA procurement decision-makers. More than 4,100 people attended, approximately 1,600 of whom represented either veteran-owned or service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses.

The men and women of the 9/11 generation have already learned to work together in diverse teams to achieve difficult objectives. They have also disciplined themselves to forgo their own comfort and safety for the sake of others — and bear the scars to prove it. All they need now is the training, education and credentials to transition successfully to the civilian workforce or pursue higher education.

We salute our veterans when they come home and thank them for their sacrifices for our nation. But they have earned more than a kind word of appreciation.

Honoring our sacred trust with our veterans means doing all we can to help them find work when they come home. They should never feel that the American Dream they defended is out of reach for them or their families. The American Jobs Act will help veterans find meaningful employment, continue contributing to their communities and aid in our economic recovery.

Congress should not delay in approving it.

Eric K. Shinseki is secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This essay was distributed by McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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