Congress helping vets find jobs

As Veterans Day approached, peace descended long enough on a bitterly divided Congress to reach a deal that could help military veterans, in multiple ways, find decent jobs in a tough economy.

Last week President Obama appeared in the Rose Garden with representatives of veterans groups and all but dared Republicans to reject another initiative from his American Jobs Act, in this case $95 million worth of tax credits, through 2015, for employers who hire Post-9/11 veterans.

The president also unveiled new administrative initiatives to help jobless Post-9/11 vets find work, including personalized job search services, for up to six months, through Department of Labor career centers.

Not long after Obama’s press conference ended, the chairmen of House and Senate veteran affairs committees announced a bipartisan deal to support those employer tax credits and a lot more to cut vet unemployment.

Democrat Patty Murray (Wash.), who chairs the Senate committee, and Republican Jeff Miller (Fla.), House committee chairman, unveiled the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act.” It combines provisions of Murray’s Hiring Heroes Act (S 951) and Miller’s Veterans Opportunity to Work Act (HR 2433) with Obama’s tax credits, originally conceived by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont.

• The Returning Heroes Tax Credit offers businesses a tax credit of up to $5,600 for each Post-9/11 veteran hired who has been looking for a job for more than six months. A tax credit of $2,400 would be allowed for hiring veterans who have been unemployed for more than four weeks.

• The Wounded Warriors Tax Credit would provide a tax credit of up to $9,600 to hire Post-9/11 veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.

Key features of the combined bill Murray championed includes:

• Mandatory attendance at an improved Transition Assistance Program for most service members moving into civilian life with upgraded career counseling options and resume writing help at a cost of $11 million over five years.

• Also, service members interested in federal civilian job could begin the application process before separation from service to ease their transition to jobs at the departments of Defense, Veteran Affairs, Homeland Security or other federal agencies that welcome their military experience.

Features of the combined bill that Miller championed include:

• Giving up to 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars up to one year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits at community colleges or technical schools to help them qualify for jobs in high-demand sectors, “from trucking to technology,” at a cost of $1.5 billion over three years.

• Up to one year of additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment benefit for severely disabled veterans.

The Senate Thursday voted 94-1 to attach the combined veterans job bill to HR 674, a House-passed bill to repeal a 3-percent tax-withholding requirement on government contractors. The Senate then passed HR 674 and sent it back to the House. Miller will shepherd it through a final House vote and on to the president for signature after Veterans Day weekend.

To cover the cost of the veteran jobs package, Murray and Miller agreed to a provision that will keep in place higher VA loan guarantee fees for veterans who re-use home loan benefits a second time or more. The higher fees, set in 2003, were to expire but will be extended through 2016.