President Obama outlined new steps to combat the nation’s high rate of veteran unemployment during an appearance Friday morning at the Washington Navy Yard, calling for the creation of “reverse boot camps” to train veterans for civilian jobs and announcing tax credits for companies that hire returning service members.
Obama said the nation must do more to put returning veterans to work. “The challenges don’t end in Kandahar or Baghdad,” he said. ”They continue right here at home.”
More than one in four veterans between the ages of 20 and 24 are unemployed, according to Labor Department figures. The president challenged the private sector to hire 100,000 veterans or spouses by 2013.
Obama, speaking before an audience of 300 service members and veterans, was joined on stage by several veterans who have had difficulty finding employment after returning from service overseas.
Obama cited the example of Nick Colgin, a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne Division, who was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his work saving the life of a French soldier in Afghanistan but was unable to get a job as an emergency medical technician back in Wyoming because he lacked the proper certification.
“That isn’t right — it doesn’t make sense,” Obama said. “If you can save lives in Afghanistan, you can save lives in Wyoming.”
Colgin welcomed Obama’s proposals but said follow-up was needed in Washington. “It all sounds like a great idea, but at the same time we need action behind it,” Colgin said in an interview after the speech.
“We’ve wanted the president to use the bully pulpit,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “A lot of Americans don’t know how bad it is.”
“We’ve got a serious problem here,” Rieckhoff added. “If people want to help vets, they should hire them.”
The White House estimates the cost of the tax credit program to be $120 million over two years, depending on how many employers hire veterans. “Let me be honest — we hope it will be more,” said a White House official who spoke to reporters on background.
The tax incentive program would be set up on a scale providing companies a $2,400 credit for hiring an unemployed veteran, $4,800 for hiring a veteran who has been unemployed six months or longer, and $9,600 for hiring a veteran with a service-connected disability who has been unemployed for six months or longer.
The task force will be led by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and include representatives from other agencies, including the Department of Labor, Office of Personnel Management and Department of Education. They are to present recommendations to the president by year’s end, according to officials.
The task force will look at a major revamping of programs that train veterans for the civilian job market. The system “as it stands now is not working,” Rieckhoff said.