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Outside editorial: Those who went to war deserve a job when they return

Posted: September 22, 2011 - 11:02pm

The following editorial first appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks just three days after President Barack Obama’s big jobs speech to Congress, you’d think it would inspire unanimous support for at least one of the president’s proposals: to create big tax credits for companies that hire military veterans.

Not so much. When it comes to our obligation, in Lincoln’s phrase, “to care for him who shall have borne the battle,” too often the line stops at the unemployment office.

The White House says that as of June, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 13.3 percent, 4.2 percent higher than the current national rate. The Obama administration’s Veterans Hiring Initiative would address that by giving employers a $2,400 tax credit for hiring an unemployed vet, double that if the vet has been out of work for six months or more.

In addition, firms that hire veterans with service-related disabilities would be eligible for a $4,800 tax credit, double that if the “wounded warrior” has been out of work for six months.

Congress managed to contain its enthusiasm for the proposal. Republicans are leery of any program that would be paid for with higher taxes on the wealthy. Democrats are leery of any program that can be hung around their necks as “stimulus spending.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., did say that the Senate would take up the bill, but he wasn’t saying when.

Aside from political and budget considerations, there are other obstacles to getting more veterans into the civilian workforce. Foremost is that there aren’t many jobs available for anyone, with 4.5 unemployed workers now available for every vacant job.

And while it’s true that the military teaches leadership, teamwork and discipline, many of the jobless veterans fall into a demographic category that is having a tough time finding work. Having enlisted out of high school — sometimes because they couldn’t find a decent job in a changing economy — they come out of the military at 22 or 23, often with combat experience but not work experience.

In pre-recession, pre-globalization America, they could have expected to move into the construction trades or a manufacturing job. Not these days, not often anyway.

Some 125,000 of these young veterans have military-related disabilities. Some have lost limbs. Others struggle, to a greater or lesser degree, with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, the “signature wound” of wars in which roadside bombs are the enemy’s weapon of choice.

But here’s the thing: America didn’t go to war after 9/11. These Americans did.

In 2001, there were roughly 42 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 29, a number that has risen slightly every year since. The military recruits about 125,000 people a year, nearly all of them from that demographic.

That means that fewer than 3 percent of the prime military-age population signs up every year. That’s less than half of 1 percent of the overall U.S. population. Not all of them were in combat; that chore fell repeatedly to the same Army combat brigades and Marine expeditionary units.

Yes, there’s the new GI bill that pays for college tuition. That’s excellent. But what of those who can’t make it in college? What of the 10,000 post-9/11 vets who are homeless? Talk about a national debt.

This should be the deal: If you fight a war for us, we’ve got a job for you.

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