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Posted at 11:03 AM ET, 10/25/2011

Obama administration calls on health clinics to hire military veterans

The Obama administration on Tuesday called on community health centers across the country to hire 8,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the latest effort to tackle high levels of unemployment among former military service members.

The administration expects each of the nation’s estimated 8,000 clinics to hire at least one veteran over the next three years, using funding provided by the health care reform act approved in 2009, said Mary Wakefield, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration. No additional money will be provided for the program, officials said.

Wakefield’s federal agency also will provide increased training for veterans to help them earn credentials for private sector jobs, she added.

The initiative is part of President Obama’s campaign this week — punctuated with the phrase “we can’t wait” -- to use executive action and other measures that do not require congressional approval to try to spur the economy, as his $447 billion American Jobs Act remains stalled in Congress.

On Monday, the administration announced a plan to help struggling homeowners refinance their mortgages. On Wednesday in Denver, the president is scheduled to announce a plan to help college students repay student loans.

White House officials have said they will continue to push the jobs package, broken in smaller bills based on individual components, on Capitol Hill.

Republicans objected to the suggestion that they have failed to act on hiring veterans.

Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker John A. Boehner, pointed out that the House approved the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act that would provide veterans access to education and retraining funds and allow Congress to work with governors to create uniform licensing and credentialing standards. But that legislation has not been approved by the Senate.

“The White House cannot credibly say they are waiting on Republicans to help veterans,” Buck said in an email.

The unemployment rate among military veterans is 11.7 percent, well above the national average of 9.1 percent. Last week, Obama and first lady Michelle Obama announced a commitment from the private sector to hire 25,000 veterans by the end of 2013.

Though the goal for health centers to hire 8,000 veterans might seem to be a small number that will do little to affect the overall plight of veterans, White House officials said the challenge is part of a “comprehensive” plan to address the high unemployment rate.

As the Post’s Federal Eye pointed out in July, the federal government has tried to make hiring veterans a priority, with modest success.

One-third of the federal government’s new hires in the first half of fiscal year 2011 were veterans, according to the President’s Council on Veterans Employment. The council reported in July that the federal government hired 34,788 veterans during that period, which ran from October through March, compared to 32,825 during the first half of FY 2010.

Tom Van Coverden, president of the National Association of Community Health Centers, said his organization “embraces the challenge” from the White House to hire veterans

“So many of our young soldiers come from the communities we serve, from rural areas. . . to inner cities,” Van Coverden said. “They know the communities, they know the patients.”

By  |  11:03 AM ET, 10/25/2011

 
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