Republicans Once Supported Veteran Incentives — Will They Back New Senate Bill?

Unemployment for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is higher than the national average, and veterans are over-represented in the U.S. homeless population, such as this homeless female Iraq vet.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski earlier this year declared that she was “proud” to add her name to a bill that gives veterans skills they need to compete for civilian jobs.

The question now is whether the Alaska Republican and her GOP colleagues are singing the same tune now that Senate Democrats have carved out another piece of President Obama’s jobs bill — this time, a provision that would help veterans find civilian work.

Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington State; Debbie Stabenow of Michigan; Sherrod Brown of Ohio; as well as Jon Tester and Max Baucus, both of Montana, unveiled the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011,” which combines a key component of Obama’s jobs bill with a related initiative to boost employment opportunities for veterans.

Borrowing from the American Jobs Act proposed by the president, the Democrats’ bill would offer a tax credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans, and will increase existing tax credits for companies that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities. In addition, following negotiations with House Republicans, the legislation contains bipartisan provisions to ensure that all service members transitioning to civilian life receive the job training skills they need to find a job, according to an announcement of the legislation from Senate Democrats.

“The bill we are introducing is a bipartisan and comprehensive approach to getting our nation’s veterans back to work,” says Murray, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “It includes Republican and Democratic ideas because getting our veterans the financial security and dignity a job provides should never be partisan. For too long in this country we have patted our veterans on the back for their service and then pushed them out into the job market alone. With this bill we are giving our veterans the job skills to get their foot in the door and incentivizing employers to make sure that door is open to them.”

Key provisions of the Democrats’ veterans bill include:

•Tax credit of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, as well as a $2,400 credit for veterans who are unemployed for more than four weeks, but less than six months.
•Tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.
•Makes the Transition Assistance Program (TAP)—an interagency workshop coordinated by Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs—mandatory for service members moving on to civilian life to help them secure 21st century jobs through resume writing workshops and career counseling.
•Expands education and training opportunities for older veterans by providing 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with up to one year of additional Montgomery GI benefits to go towards education or training programs at community colleges or technical schools.
• Provides disabled veterans up to one year of additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Benefits.
• Allows service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs at VA, Homeland Security, or the many other federal agencies in need of our veterans.

Although the overall unemployment rate for veterans is lower than the national figure, the unemployment rate among vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has risen to 12.1 percent. Veterans also are over-represented in the U.S. homeless population, accounting for 11.5 percent of all homeless adults.

So far, Senate Republicans have effectively killed Obama’s entire $447 billion American Jobs Act, as well as other individual pieces taken from it and introduced as stand-alone bills.

Murkowski is not the only Senate Republican who has paid lip service in the past to legislation benefiting veterans. Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming is another example of a Republican who publicly voiced supported veterans hiring programs.

“Helping our veterans turn the skills they learned in the military into a rewarding job not only honors our promise to take care of those who served their country, it helps guarantee all of our cities, towns and counties have the highest quality emergency medical personnel available,” he declared in a September press release.

Will Murkowski, Enzi and other Senate Republicans support the new veterans bill, or exercise another filibuster of the Democrats’ bill?


Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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