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Obama urges firms to hire vets, offers incentives

President Obama outlined new steps Friday to combat the high rate of unemployment among the “9/11 generation” of veterans, proposing tax credits for companies that hire returning service members and the creation of “reverse boot camps” to train veterans for civilian jobs.

More than one million veterans are unemployed, and the jobless rate among those who joined the services after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, stands at 13.3 percent. And more than one million service members are projected to leave the military between 2011 and 2016 in a faltering economy.

“Over the last few years, another generation of young veterans has learned that the challenges don’t end in Kandahar or Baghdad,” Obama said at the Washington Navy Yard. “They continue right here at home. Today, we’re saying to our veterans, you fought for us, and now we’re fighting for you.”

Obama, speaking to 300 service members and veterans in the Sail Loft, a large brick building that once housed sail makers and later a gun factory, was joined onstage by several veterans who have had difficulty finding work.

“Just think about how many veterans have led their comrades on life-and-death missions by the time they were 25 years old,” Obama said. “That’s the kind of responsibility and experience that any business in America should want to take advantage of.”

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 in Wyoming because he lacked the proper certification.

“That isn’t right, and it doesn’t make sense — not for our veterans, not for the strength of our country,” Obama said. “If you can save a life in Afghanistan, you can save a life in an ambulance in Wyoming.”

Colgin, who was onstage for the president’s remarks, 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 after the speech.

Colgin, 26, said he was shocked when he was unable to get work in his field. “I got back, and I couldn’t even hand out Band-Aids,” he said.

Many veterans worked in sectors that were hardest hit by the recession, including construction, mining, manufacturing, transportation and utilities. Some employers have balked at hiring veterans for fear that they will be called back to duty or amid concerns that they might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other conditions.

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said Obama’s attention to the issue would encourage more companies to hire veterans. “To have him stand here today and say that veterans are dynamic and should be hired, that’s going to have a real impact,” he said.

Obama’s remarks were welcomed by some Republicans, including Rep. Jeff Miller, (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, who called the number of unemployed veterans “unacceptable.”

The proposed tax incentives would provide companies a $2,400 credit for hiring an unemployed veteran and $4,800 for hiring a veteran who has been unemployed six months or longer. An existing tax credit for firms that hire veterans with a service-connected disability would be increased to $9,600. The White House estimates the cost of the program to be $120 million over two years, depending on the number of hires.

A task force led by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs is to make recommendations by the end of the year for creating the reverse boot camps that would help service members prepare for civilian employment. Under law, the federal government offers hiring preference to veterans.

Obama challenged the private sector to hire 100,000 unemployed post-9/11 veterans or their spouses by 2013, and he cited efforts being made by several companies.

Microsoft announced a partnership Friday with the Department of Labor to help more than 10,000 veterans get IT certified over the next two years. Siemens, which already met a goal to hire 300 veterans this year, promised to hire 150 more.

Siemens chairman Peter Solmssen, who attended the event, said in an interview that too often “Employers don’t know how to look beyond the four corners of a resume.”

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