U.S. Labor Department announces overhaul to veterans program

By LAURA PHELPS, MEDILL NEWS SERVICE, Written for UPI  |  Nov. 3, 2011 at 4:23 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 3 (UPI) -- Foreshadowing a larger announcement close to Veterans Day next week, U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis released data Thursday that indicated a large spike in unemployment among African-American veterans.

At the same time, she announced that the Labor Department is reworking the curriculum in its veterans' employment workshop program after 19 years, which Solis said was "long overdue."

"We know from experience that military skills are invaluable in the civilian workforce but we need to do better at connecting these young men and women to employers," she said.

The new curriculum is being tested at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, the naval base in Norfolk, Va., Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and the U.S. Army post at Fort Bragg, N.C., Solis said details on the new program will be released next week as part of Veterans Day events.

The employment data report broke down the unemployed veterans' population by gender, race and service time to get a closer look at challenges facing troops as they transition to civilian life.

Approximately 160,000 active duty service members and 110,000 National Guardsmen and reservists transition to civilian life each year, the Labor Department said.

"We have a duty to serve our military families as well as they have served us and that's especially true of the recent announcement that our combat troops are coming home from Iraq," Solis said.

While white veterans make up the majority of the veteran labor force, black veterans, who make up 11.9 percent of the veterans' labor force, account for 17.5 percent of unemployed veterans in 2010.

From 2007-10, the unemployment rate for African-American veterans increased nearly 7 percentage points to 12.7 percent, the highest rate of any race or ethnicity among veterans. White veterans had an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent, followed by 9.2 percent for Hispanic veterans and 4.4 percent for Asian veterans.

The unemployment rate for nonwhite veterans overall was 5.5 percent in 2007 and 11.7 percent in 2010 but nonwhite nonveterans had an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent in 2007 and 13.3 percent in 2010.

"I'm tired of hearing why vets should be hired, just hire them. It's your duty," said Medal of Honor recipient Paul Bucha.

There were 11.8 million veterans – 7.7 percent of the U.S. labor force -- employed or looking for work last year, the report stated.

Just more than 57 percent of female veterans were working last year compared with 55 percent of women who didn't serve in the military, the report said.

Approximately 17 percent of veterans who joined the military after Sept. 11, 2001, are women but nearly 15 percent of them don't have jobs, Solis said.

Retired Air Force Col. Lisa Firmin said at a panel hosted by Solis that women need to be more self-confident themselves both in the military and in the workforce.

"Women need to assert themselves in a proper, professional way," said Firmin, who was the highest ranking Latina officer in the Air Force before retiring to become provost of the University of Texas.

The unemployment rate among veteran women was lower than veteran men and all other women. Veteran women had an unemployment rate of 7.9 percent but veteran men had an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent. That's compared with 10.5 percent of men who didn't serve in the military and 8.4 percent of similar women, the report indicated.

"While women vets face the same issues as their male counterparts -- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), sleeplessness and battle injuries -- they also face other unique challenges like domestic violence and sexual assault, which increase their risk of becoming homeless," Solis said.

Of those who were working, however, veteran women were paid less than veteran and nonveteran men. Veteran men had a median income of $35,725; nonveteran men earned $30,822; but veteran women made $30,540.

Nevertheless, veteran women earned almost $10,000 more than other women, who had a median income of $20,634.

Solis also used the event to push the president's American Jobs Act for aspects of the bill that would lower veteran unemployment, she said.

The proposal includes the Returning Heroes Tax Credit, to provide up to $5,600 for businesses that hire veterans who have been unemployed for six months or longer. Plus, the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit would increase the tax credit for business that hires a veteran with a service-connected disability up to $9,600.

About the same percentage of veterans with a service-connected disability were unemployed at 9.1 percent in July 2010 as veterans without a disability at 8.7 percent, the report said.

"And I'll be blunt," Solis said. "Legislation that cuts taxes on business and provides job opportunities for our veterans should be the most bipartisan, no-brainer that Congress considers."

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