Bill would require U.S. troops to receive job training before leaving military

May 10, 2011

Legislation to be introduced in Congress on Wednesday would require all U.S. service members to undergo job-skills training before leaving the military, a measure that supporters say is aimed at cutting the high unemployment rate among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

About 27 percent of veterans age 20 to 24 are unemployed, according to recent statistics from the Labor Department. Many veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan are finding themselves at a competitive disadvantage when they look for civilian employment in the difficult economy because they lack job-skills training, according to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the bill’s sponsor.

“One of the biggest barriers they face upon returning is finding a job,” Murray, who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said in an interview Tuesday. “With their training, leadership abilities and skills, they should be at the top of the list for jobs, and too often they go to the bottom of the pile.”

The legislation, called the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, would require all departing service members to participate in the Transition Assistance Program, which is administered by the Labor Department in partnership with the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The training, which is now voluntary, includes job-search techniques, resume writing and interviewing tips.

“They’ve been out of the workforce, and that puts them at a disadvantage,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director and founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which is supporting the legislation. “This is a good way to soften their landing. These folks shouldn’t have to face high unemployment rates when they return. They shouldn’t be coming home to unemployment checks.”

As many as one-third of departing service members do not participate in the program, according to Murray’s office. Commanders do not always set aside time to allow demobilizing service members to take advantage of the training. In other cases, service members are given little or no information about the program, or do not want the training.

Many service members do not receive the training “primarily because they don’t have to,” Rieckhoff said. “They may think it’s not for them. But it’s good for them, and good for employers.”

The bill would require the government to contact each veteran within six months of his or her completion of the training program and every three months thereafter for the first year after they leave the service to check on their job status.

The legislation also would require the Defense Department, the Labor Department and the VA to jointly sponsor a study that would identify how to eliminate barriers in translating military jobs into civilian employment. Military medics, for example, are often unable to get certification that would allow them to get civilian positions despite their training. “They have tremendous experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they come home and they can’t drive an ambulance,” Murray said.

The Congressional Budget Office did not have an estimate yet on the potential cost of the legislation. The bill is drawing support from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Military Officers Association of America and the Disabled American Veterans.

Murray said the numbers of unemployed young veterans might grow as more troops return from Afghanistan. “Twenty years from now, it will be on the conscience of our country if we don’t do something to address this problem,” she said.

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