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Mr. NELSON of Florida. Mr. President, I want to go ahead on this Veterans Jobs Corps bill. I had anticipated I would be speaking after the chairman of the committee, Senator Murray, but I will take the liberty of going ahead, and then with her comments coming as the chairman of the committee, which normally it would be the reverse. And I thank Senator Murray for her leadership in all of these veterans issues, but particularly the issue of unemployment among veterans when they come home from the war. Especially among veterans who are age 24 and less, the unemployment figure is even higher.
It is appropriate on this particular day, September 11--11 years ago today--with the fact that those terrorists hijacked the four commercial airlines, causing the crashes at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and in a field in Pennsylvania. What was happening also that morning was that police officers and firefighters and emergency personnel rushed to respond, and many lost their lives in attempts to save others.
The events of that morning mobilized American forces like we had not seen in years. One of the first mobilizations was our U.S. military. They were called to serve bravely in remote corners of the globe.
Eleven years later, the mastermind of 9/11, Osama bin Laden, was taken down, we now have an al-Qaida that is severely diminished, and we are bringing our troops home from that part of the world.
But for the troops, when they come home, the fight is not over. There is another fight when they get back home to America. It is a different type of battle.
The unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan was just under 11 percent in August. It is higher for those who are younger. This problem is likely to continue to grow as we draw down in Afghanistan, as we have already drawn down in Iraq.
It is worth noting that there have been steps made in the right direction. This past summer we passed legislation that will help veterans get Federal occupational licenses when their military training matches the civilian requirements. That was a bill I had the privilege of sponsoring. It passed the Senate unanimously. It was passed by the House overwhelmingly. It was sent down and it was signed into law. Last year we passed the bill granting tax benefits to companies that hire wounded warriors. But we have to do more.
So we filed this legislation that the chairman of the committee, Senator Murray, will further explain. This legislation is to create a Veterans Jobs Corps. It is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s. The Veterans Jobs Corps would put veterans back to work restoring and protecting America's public lands and waters. The bill would also create opportunities for veterans to serve as police and firefighters and first responders.
We have had some success on this with smaller scale projects, such as the Veterans Fire Corps pilot program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which trains veterans to fight forest fires. In fact, it has been so successful that folks who run these programs say they can hardly keep trainees in the program because they are picked up for full-time employment so fast. So we are expanding this idea from this pilot study that has been so successful. We are expanding it now in the Veterans Jobs Corps.
Ten percent of the money in this bill will go to hiring veterans with specialties, such as those with the specialty of military police going into civilian law enforcement and those with the specialty of medics to be firefighters and first responders.
Not only will this bill help protect our communities, but the Veterans Jobs Corps will help address the Federal maintenance backlog. The National Park Service has deferred maintenance totaling over $11 billion. This backlog has been caused by the gradual shifting of funding to the operations budgets of the Park Service at the expense of everything else.
For example, at the Civil War battlefield in Fredericksburg, VA, a $42 million backlog in maintenance is preventing the upkeep of that vital piece of American history.
I am happy to say that a number of organizations have stepped forward to support this bill. The American Legion, the Military Officers Association of America, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the National Association of Police Organizations--all of them support this legislation.
One of the greatest honors I have in this job as Senator is getting out to meet and to greet current members of our military all over the globe and to thank the veterans back here at home for their service to our country.
When you meet some of these folks, both young and old, they have already done the tough, tough job, and then they come home and they have tough times as well. These folks are hard working, they are highly trained, highly disciplined, extremely skilled. We need to give them as many opportunities as possible to succeed when they get back home here in America.
It is up to us to stand by our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast
guardsmen. I want to urge the Senate, when we vote today at 2:15, to grant the motion for cloture so we can take up this bill and quickly pass it so those who have fought bravely for our Nation can find employment when they come home.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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