Vowing to Hire Our Heroes: Helping America's Veterans Find Employment

USAA Op-Ed, Rep. Jeff Miller

Life has been tough the past couple of years. The country has been gripped by an economic recession that has had a profound effect on our citizens. From rising gas and food prices to an unstable housing market to watching retirement accounts drop, many are asking, when will it get better?

Baby Boomers, hoping to soon enjoy time with their families, enjoy outdoor activities, travel, and otherwise enjoy a lifestyle they always dreamed of without the stresses of a job, are now asking themselves a serious question - will I have to keep working to retire, and if I do, will there even be a job for me?

The world is changing, as is the job market. And we must change with it. No longer can retirees rely on the safety of an employer's pension program, but instead need to take greater personal responsibility for retirement planning. Some may not work for just one company, but instead for two or three or four over the course of a career. As the economy becomes more globalized, learning and adapting will present both challenges and opportunities for us all.

Today's global economy means that companies want to hire employees that bring with them certain skills. Yet, study after study demonstrates that America lacks the skilled employees to fill many of these vacancies.

These problems have been especially prevalent in the veterans' community. For example, more than two-thirds of today's unemployed veterans are between the ages of 30-65. At the same time, younger veterans are returning home to a fiercely competitive job market and face an unemployment rate that is higher than that of their non-veteran peers. Too often, companies are failing to recognize the skills earned in military service that with a little additional training, could translate into a model hire.

Enter the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. Recognizing that specific void in our workforce and taking into account veteran unemployment rates, this new law enables veterans aged 35-60 to "retrain" for new careers using the Montgomery GI Bill. The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program will give nearly 100,000 unemployed veterans the opportunity to learn a new skill for an in-demand job. Veterans will be able to select training in a broad range of fields with training to be provided at vocational and community schools across the country. I highly encourage veterans who find themselves unemployed today to take advantage of this benefit. The Department of Labor, through the state employment services and the VA, will begin accepting applications this summer.

For our younger veterans returning home, it is hard to understand why some employers fail to see that they would be an asset to their organization. Despite best efforts, I have not found the answer to this perplexing question.

What we have learned over the past two years is that the 9-11 Generation has many of the skills to compete in today's job market, but are unsure how to translate those skills into meaningful careers. It is encouraging, however, that numerous companies have stepped forward to help transitioning servicemembers find employment. We thank each for recognizing the value of our servicemembers and the work ethic these men and women will bring to their business.

But more must be done. We must also help our military men and women recognize their inherent talents and take advantage of the skills they learned in the military. To do this, the many employment-focused provisions in the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, along with the Post-9/11 GI Bill, ensure that every separating active-duty servicemember has an opportunity to get extensive education and training on civilian employment.

We spend months training our troops for the battlefield, but in the past, often left them to navigate the civilian world on their own. We have addressed this issue by providing more Transition Assistance Program (TAP) sites, modernizing the TAP curriculum, and making the program mandatory. A major focus of the curriculum will be to translate the servicemember's MOS into the civilian world and to ensure that servicemembers recognize the world of opportunities in the civilian workforce available to him or her.

These programs are but a start to our efforts to counter veteran unemployment. The private sector will play the most critical role in helping tackle what may become one of the defining issues of these conflicts - if you serve, you may not find employment afterward. All of us have an obligation to ensure that mindset does not take hold.

Service to country is an honor, one that should be held in the highest esteem, nor ever forgotten by our government and our citizens.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) is Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

To learn more about the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, please click here. To find out if you are eligible for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, please visit the VA website at: http://gibill.va.gov/benefits/other_programs/vrap.html