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Military Veterans Deserve Jobs When They Return

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

While we take the time this Veterans Day to honor the courage and sacrifice shown by our veterans, we should also rededicate ourselves to making sure vets have a secure and stable life after they finish their service.

The U.S. Labor Department reports the unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 11.3 percent, significantly above the overall rate of 10.2 percent for the nation as a whole. Some 185,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are out of work. Many of these unemployed veterans are National Guard or Reserve troops who were called to duty but found when they came home that their old jobs were no longer there for them.

The AFL-CIO Union Veterans Council is calling on Congress to strengthen and enforce the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which ensures veterans can claim their former jobs when they return from active duty.

In his Veterans Day message, Union Veterans Council Chairman Mark Ayers quotes President Franklin Roosevelt who signed the first GI Bill into law in 1944:

What our servicemen and women want, more than anything else, is the assurance of satisfactory employment upon their return to civil life.

“For today’s veterans, that same desire holds true,” Ayers says.

Click here to read Ayers’ message.

There is good news for vets on this holiday. President Obama signed on Nov. 9 a new executive order that underscores to federal agencies the importance of recruiting and training veterans, to increase the employment of veterans within the executive branch and to help recently hired veterans adjust to civilian life.

The executive order establishes a Veterans Employment Program office within most federal agencies, the White House said. These offices will be responsible for helping veterans identify employment opportunities within federal agencies, providing feedback to veterans about their employment application status, and helping veterans recently employed by agencies adjust to civilian life and a workplace culture often different than military service.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Veterans Affairs Secretary  will chair a high-level committee to oversee the program. Click here to read the executive order.

The Union Veterans Council also is calling for other federal programs, as well:

  • Expanding state and local programs for providing job training and employment counseling services.
  • Increasing coverage of the new post-9/11 GI Bill to include payments for apprenticeships and on-the-job training.
  • Continuing funding for the nationally recognized AFL-CIO “Helmets to Hardhats” program, which has placed tens of thousands of transitioning veterans into careers in the construction industry.

Ayers sums it up this way:

On this Veterans Day, we have the privilege of honoring these very special American men and women whose sacrifices and service are beyond most people’s comprehension. We owe them a great deal. First and foremost, we owe them our freedom. Secondly, we owe them our gratitude. And finally, we owe them the prospect of a secure and stable life upon the conclusion of their service.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on November 10, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

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