125,000 Veterans & Military Spouses Hired through Obama’s Joining Forces, Maine benefits

Republicans block chance to put thousands more veterans to work with the Veterans Jobs Corps

BY RAMONA DU HOUX

October 15th, 2012 

“The story of Joining Forces is of people across this country stepping up and doing everything they can to serve military families as well as they have served this country,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “We’re not going to stop until all our veterans know that when they hit the job market, their skills will be rewarded. And we won’t stop until all our military spouses know that the next time their family is transferred, they won’t have to leave their profession behind.”

According to the most recent U.S. Census, Maine has the fourth highest concentration of veterans in the nation. About 132,000 residents are veterans, representing 13.2 percent of the population aged 20 or older. About 9,000 are Gulf War II-era veterans. Historically, veterans have had unemployment rates below the nonveteran population. This trend has reversed in recent years with higher unemployment rates for veterans. Young veterans’ unemployment rates nearly tripled to more than 14 percent during the recession and early recovery.

On August 5, 2011, President Obama announced new commitments to lower veteran unemployment through hiring tax credits, private sector commitments, and reforms that improve the way we prepare, train, and educate servicemembers for life after the military.
As part of this initiative, the First Lady and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden challenged the private sector with an effort called Joining Forces to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013. Joining Forces exceeded expectations and more than 125,000 veterans and military spouses have been hired or trained in the past year. This effort, combined with policies and legislation put in place by the president, have resulted in a 20 percent decrease in veteran unemployment compared to the same time last year.

These same companies have pledged to hire or train 250,000 veterans and spouses in the coming years. New tax credits help the effort. The Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides businesses a maximum credit of $5,600 per hired veteran, and the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers businesses a maximum credit of $9,600 per hired veteran with service-connected disabilities.

In Maine, the Joining Forces initiative is know as Jobs Now for Maine Vets, which is a partnership of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce in collaboration with the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership. The Hiring Our Heroes job fair in November of 2011 had 24 businesses and about 250 veterans participate in this Jobs Now initiative. Pratt & Whitney, Poland Spring, and Cianbro are businesses that continue to recruit veterans.

Jobs Now for Maine Vets offers veterans and their immediate family members an opportunity to rapidly train for existing job openings in manufacturing. The program uses high-tech mobile classrooms to provide intensive, two-week, customized training at an employer’s worksite. The veterans are then placed immediately into full-time manufacturing jobs and receive six months on-the-job training and mentoring.

The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), which started last July, aims to reach unemployed veterans aged 35 to 60 who can qualify for up to 12 months of job training. Participants may receive up to 12 months of assistance equal to the monthly full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty program, which amounts to $1,473 per month.

Often, veterans come to the CareerCenter to look for work before accessing other services available to them. With VRAP, Maine Department of Labor’s CareerCenters can help them connect with a variety of services, including training, jobs, rehabilitation or other benefits.

Another program sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration called Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup provides servicemembers and veterans the means to become entrepreneurs, giving them the tools, training, and resources necessary to succeed in the small business sector. By increasing access to capital, counseling, and federal contracts, this program is making it possible for veterans to own a small business.

Congress misses a huge opportunity to help —

While Obama’s programs are helping thousands of servicemembers transition into the job market, thousands more are in need of help, and the rate of homelessness amongst veterans is high.

“No veteran who fought for our nation should have to fight for a job at home, but Republicans in Washington blocked a common-sense plan to create the Veterans Jobs Corps and put tens of thousands of veterans back to work,” said Jay Carney the White House press secretary.

The legislation would have funded a proposal by President Barack Obama spending $1 billion on programs and grants to put former servicemembers to work as police officers, emergency response personnel and park rangers.

“Right now, if Congress had done the right thing, we could be on our way to having a veterans jobs corps that helps returning heroes find work as cops and firefighters in communities all across the country. These men and women have made incredible sacrifices for our country. They shouldn’t have to worry about finding a job when they get home. But last week, Republicans in Congress voted it down. And then they left,” said President Obama.

Other help for servicemembers and veterans:

• August 31, 2012. Obama signed an Executive Order that strengthens suicide prevention.
• July 12, 2012. Obama signed the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act which makes it easier for veterans to put their skills to work at home.
• April 11, 2012. Nursing organizations, including the American Nurses Association and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, made a commitment to further educate 3 million nurses about veterans needs.
• March 6, 2012. The president announced measures to provide relief to thousands of servicemembers with their mortgages.
• November 7, 2011. President Obama introduced new online resource tools to help veterans translate their military skills for the civilian workforce.
• August 2011. The effects of the improved GI bill started. The revisions expanded eligibility for tens of thousands of veterans, increased the range of programs funded by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and simplified tuition and fee payments.
• The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided the Department of Veterans Affairs with more than $1.4 billion to help services for veterans with improved medical facilities, grants to assist states with nursing homes and extended care facilities, and to modify existing facilities. It released funds to hire and train 1,500 temporary claims processors to speed benefits to veterans, and made one-time payments of $250 to veterans to help with the recession. It kick-started an electronic medical records system for all military personal.