U.S. Rep. Bob Turner is the congressman from New York's Ninth District and a former service member.
Thinking back to when I was getting out of the military in 1964, I can remember our country being full of buzz and excitement. Our economy was growing, opportunities were plentiful, and the American dream was alive and well. I was so optimistic about my future that despite being in my early twenties with a pregnant wife, very little money in the bank, and no job, I had no reservations about leaving the military and starting a new career. Unfortunately now, 47 years later, our military men and women are not able to express the same optimism I did.
I recently had the honor to visit our troops serving in Afghanistan. During my trip, I was briefed on the progress our troops have made, gained first-hand knowledge of their operation, and developed a better understanding of the work that remains before our troops are withdrawn.
I was so impressed with the motivation, professionalism, and positive attitudes of the troops — despite all of the challenges and dangers they willingly face. They were focused and dedicated to completing their mission. While the troops seemed to have no doubt about their ability to do their job in Afghanistan, I was surprised by how many of them expressed doubt about getting a job once they returned home.
There are some alarming statistics regarding veteran employment. For instance, the unemployment rate among the veterans who have served since 2001 has jumped from 11.5 percent in 2010 to 12.4 percent, which is 3.3 percent higher than the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent. From 2008 to 2011, the unemployment rate among veterans has risen an alarming 5.5 percent.
Though these statistics are bleak, the House of Representatives has taken steps to help our veterans find employment in the private sector. Congressman Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs which I serve on, introduced the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act of 2011 (or VOW Act) to address the grim prospect of unemployment facing our veterans.
This legislation, which I supported, passed the House 418-6 with overwhelming bipartisan support. The VOW Act would make changes to current programs to correct inefficiencies and over-regulation, create a job retraining program for 100,000 veterans, and require states to provide veterans with modified licensing rules without extensive retraining for credentialing.
The VOW Act provided the framework for the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, a bipartisan agreement by Chairman Miller and Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, to get our veterans working again and provide further job training. Although this is a critical step in addressing the issue of veteran unemployment, this legislation requires further action and I am hopeful that it will become law and provide our veterans with this critical service.
Our military men and women have served their country and sacrificed more than most of us could ever imagine. We, at the very least, owe it to them to ensure they have every opportunity to support the families that supported them while in combat when they come back home.
To learn more about the VOW Act, please visit: http://veterans.house.gov/jobs. Congressman Bob Turner (NY-09) serves on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, House Committee on Homeland Security, and House Committee on Foreign Affairs.