Today the President will address a joint session of Congress to outline his plan to put Americans back to work. This speech comes shortly after the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced Frida y that the economy netted zero jobs in August and the national unemployment rate held steady at 9.1%. Through this speech, President Obama will push Congress to move past partisan politics and forward a robust effort to create jobs.
Veterans’ employment must be a key piece in this renewed effort. Through the first eight months of 2011, the unemployment rate for OIF/OEF-era veterans is trending higher than the already staggering 2011 annual unemployment rate of 11.5 percent. Last week, the BLS reported a 9.8 percent unemployment rate for OIF/OEF-era veterans. Though these numbers are the lowest of 2011, they remain unacceptably high and fail to include veterans who are underemployed or have stopped looking for work.
Last month, the President announced his New Veterans’ Employment Initiative  aimed at putting our country’s veterans back to work. He proposed new Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior tax credits that would give employers a financial incentive to hire veterans. President Obama pledged to help our veterans transition from combat to career by refining and enhancing career development programs at local One-Stop Career Centers. IAVA applauded these efforts, but expects more movement from the White House and Congress towards these goals throughout the fall. President Obama could jumpstart this effort today by highlighting these initiatives as he talks about his broader jobs plan.
IAVA Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff and Member Veteran Nick Colgin on CNN
By doing so, President Obama could also help move forward the conversation on other key veteran employment initiatives that IAVA is fighting for. In Congress, IAVA is still awaiting a floor vote on Sen. Patty Murray’s [D-WA] Hiring America’s Heroes Act  of 2011. And, just this morning Rep. Jeff Miller's [R-FL] Veterans Opportunity to Work Act  passed out of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. Both bills enjoy bipartisan support and IAVA looks for Congress to continue to move forward on them as they return from recess this week. Coupled with President Obama’s New Veterans’ Employment Initiative, these measures could put a critical dent in the 9.8% OIF/OEF-era veteran unemployment rate , which left approximately 192,000 veterans searching for jobs in August.
As our country pauses this weekend to observe the 10th anniversary of September 11th, it’s equally important that we remember the sacrifices of the 2.3 million service members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since. Thousands more continue to deploy and leaving their families at home while they serve our country overseas. As we reflect, we have a responsibility to renew our commitment to each of these veterans and their families. We look to the President tonight to leverage his speech as an opportunity to refocus the country on supporting these men so they can transition from combat to career, support their families and local communities, and help rebuild our economy.
To get involved in IAVA’s fight to lower the veteran unemployment rate and support new veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce, visit the Combat to Career  headquarters.
Kate O'Gorman is the Policy Coordinator at IAVA's Washington D.C. branch, working closely with the Research and Policy teams. A graduate of Barnard College, Kate was a research assistant at New Partners Consulting before joining IAVA.