Last week President Obama signed into law the VOW to Hire Heroes Act , the first jobs bill to come out of Congress this year. The bill could not have come soon enough. This morning the Bureau of Labor Statistics  released unemployment data showing that 11.1 percent of OEF/OIF-era veterans were unemployed in November. This rate is slightly lower than the 12 percent average for new veterans so far in 2011, but almost 2.5 percentage points higher than the national average. VOW to Hire Heroes includes short- and long-term fixes that will improve the employment prospects of new veterans. Several amendments in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed out of the Senate last night, will provide further help to America’s new veterans.
The most discussed part of VOW to Hire Heroes incentivizes employers to hire veterans with tax credits: $9,600 for veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months; $5,600 for veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months; and $2,400 for veterans who are unemployed for more than 4 weeks but less than 6 months. Incentivizing private sector hiring is particularly critical because almost a third of OEF/OIF-era veterans work in the government sector, which is shrinking while the rest of the economy grows.
Equally important to veterans will be two other provisions. The law mandates a study that will translate military occupational specialties and certifications into civilian skill sets and licenses. It will also make the Transition Assistance Program mandatory for every separating service member and ensure that the program is relevant and updated. These two components of the new law will make an important difference to new veterans many of whom are having a hard time navigating the hiring process and explaining their service to civilian employers.
And better news: on Thursday evening, the Senate approved the NDAA  with the inclusion of some critical amendments for veteran employment. If passed, one amendment would extend Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protections to members of the National Guard called up for state deployment. USERRA safeguards reservists’ jobs when they are called up for active duty. Another amendment would start a DoD pilot program to provide civilian licenses and certifications out of military vocational schools. The issue of licensing is a critical one to veterans, who may have the skills to do a job in the military, but not the credentials to get the job in the civilian sector. Along the same lines, another amendment would allow military truck drivers to get commercial drivers’ licenses. Hopefully these amendments will follow the VOW to Hire Heroes Act to the President’s desk and begin to change the employment landscape for new veterans.
This year has been a difficult one for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans looking for work. As the war in Iraq ends and war in Afghanistan draws down, pieces of legislation like NDAA will make a lasting impact on these veterans’ ability to find work.
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Moran Banai is IAVA’s Senior Research Associate in Washington, DC, where she leads the efforts of IAVA’s research team. She has a BA from Brown University and Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.