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Public Statements

Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. FRANKEN. Madam President, I rise today to express my strong support for the Veterans Jobs Corps Act. I am proud to be a cosponsor of the bill. I would like to thank Senator Nelson for introducing the bill, and I would like to thank Senator Murray, chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, for bringing this bill to the Senate and for all she has done for our Nation's veterans.

Veterans have done so much for our country, serving courageously in the military, and they have been tested so profoundly and so many times over the last decade. These men and women have done everything for us. We owe them. That means they deserve the best health care and other benefits they have earned from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

And that means a home. Last weekend I was back in Minnesota for Habitat for Humanity, making critical home repairs for a Minnesota Guard veteran, SGT Brian Neill, and his family. Brian is a 23-year veteran of the National Guard, is part of the Minnesota National Guard unit, the legendary Red Bulls, who had their deployment in Iraq extended so that it was one of the longest, if not the longest, deployment in U.S. history.

While Brian was in Iraq, his son was hit by a drunk driver while returning home from his junior ROTC training. He sustained a severe brain injury and is severely disabled.

In Iraq, Brian, who mentored younger soldiers, saved the life of one of those solders. Brian, being a 23-year vet, mentored these young kids. They were in a convoy, and he saw one of them get out and collapse. He recognized the heatstroke and saved his life.

Sergeant Neill himself returned from Iraq suffering from very serious physical and psychological wounds that leave his wife Jane as a caregiver for both Brian and their son. I have to tell you, they are the most wonderful people. It was an amazing experience to help them with home repairs to make sure they will have the home that meets their needs.

But when I talk to veterans in Minnesota these days, the thing I hear most about is jobs, about employment. Jobs mean money, of course, but it means much more. It means a new mission. Without a job, you really cannot reintegrate into your community and start a new phase of your life.

Veterans unemployment in Minnesota, as I am sure it is in the Presiding Officer's State of New York, is way too high. My message to employers in Minnesota is simple: These are the people you want to hire. They have skills. They have discipline. We all have a role to play in making sure veterans have jobs--employers in the private sector, State government, colleges and universities, municipalities, and also the Federal Government.

This is how we do it in Minnesota. Let me give an example. We had several thousand Red Bulls deployed to Kuwait. The Minnesota National Guard recognized that a large number of them were not going to have jobs when they came back, so the Guard and Minnesota's outstanding Department of Employment and Economic Development went upstream, as they say, to Kuwait to get ahead of the problem. They brought corporate leaders from Minnesota, businesses such as Target and Best Buy, and they also brought folks from MNSCU, which is the Minnesota State Colleges and University System, to Kuwait to provide training for the Guard members on entering or reentering the workforce. They were able to share valuable information with the Red Bulls on writing resumes, getting ready for an interview, and doing it well.

One of the problems is that very often soldiers coming back from Afghanistan, coming back from Iraq, from Kuwait, very often in a job interview will say: We did that, we did this, we did that. That is how you think in the military. Employers want to know what you yourself individually did. So it was simple. The employment guys from Target said: Say ``I''--you know, little tips like that. And it has been very helpful.

So we all have a role to play. At the Federal level, last year we passed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act that expanded and created new tax credits for businesses that hire veterans. I have been spreading the word in Minnesota--I know the Presiding Officer has been spreading the word in New York--so our businesses know that for every unemployed veteran they hire, they can get a tax credit for up to $9,600. That is $9,600 for hiring a veteran who has a service-related disability and then ratchets down a little bit. But this is a good incentive for businesses to be hiring our veterans.

The legislation we are considering today, the Veterans Jobs Corps Act, is the next step that we can and should take at the Federal level. The bill creates a Veterans Job Corps through the Department of Veterans Affairs, in cooperation with other departments, where thousands of veterans will be able to work on conservation and resource management in our Nation's public lands. Under this bill, veterans will have the opportunity to restore and protect parks, forests, and other public lands, whether they be national, State or tribal. Veterans will be hired to maintain the infrastructure and facilities on these public lands. It will also provide funding for veterans to become firefighters and law enforcement officers. It will also provide licensing and certification for certain skills veterans had when they were deployed--emergency medical, nursing assistants, and also drivers. Many men and women drive in these theaters, and to ease their getting certification, this bill does that as well so they can work in our Nation's parks and these national lands that are so treasured.

This is really based on the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC from the New Deal, which was created through a combination of actions by Franklin Roosevelt and legislation, of course, by Congress. It was very successful. It was the most popular program of the New Deal. In fact, at that time veterans were specifically included among those who could be enrolled in the CCC. As I said, the CCC was one of the most successful programs to help us get through the Depression.

My wife Franni's uncle James, who died not long ago at the age of 96, worked for the post office, the Postal Service, and served with the U.S. Army postal service in England, France, and Germany during World War II--a ``greatest generation'' guy. But before that, during the Depression, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. He was part of the crew that built the road through Evans Notch, a beautiful, mountainous area at the border of Maine and New Hampshire. My wife is from Maine. This was one of James' proudest achievements in life. If you read his obituary, it was one of the most prominent parts, along with his service during World War II.

That is the kind of thing the Veterans Job Corps can be. We have to do this work on our public lands, our parks, our forests. Our public lands need to be maintained and preserved and improved. Why not put our veterans to work doing it? They have the skills, they have the experience, and they have the discipline. For instance, if you spent a lot of time on duty outside and you work in teams, which is obviously true of a huge number of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, you are going to be very well suited for this work. If you built roads in Iraq or Afghanistan, you are well prepared to maintain or manage resources in Minnesota's beautiful parks, forests, trails, and other public lands--under a little less pressure, by the way.

Minnesota has over 227,000 acres of land in 73 State and national park and recreation areas. That does not count our innumerable public lands under more local jurisdiction. Those are some of the most beautiful places in the country--the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Voyageurs National Park, Superior and Chippewa National Forests, or the trail along the Mississippi and St. Croix Rivers, just to name a few. Those need to be protected, maintained, improved, and restored too. This is important work, and it is dignified work. If you are making sure it is in your obituary 70 years later, you know it is very important, dignified work. What better way to preserve the beauty of these places than having veterans do it, for our heroes to do it.

The bill also incorporates a number of other veterans job provisions from other bills sponsored by my colleagues from both sides of the aisle. The one I started to mention before is the certification-licensure requirements for becoming a nursing assistant or emergency medical technician--I knew I was looking for a word; it was ``technician''--and for getting a commercial driver's license. This is also an issue on which my colleague, my senior Senator from Minnesota, Ms. Klobuchar, has spent a lot of time.

The provision in this bill authored by Senator Pryor also states that they have to take military training into consideration in issuing licenses for those jobs if they want to continue getting Federal funds for some important veteran employment programs that States administer. This will provide an additional incentive for States to make sure that servicemembers' highly relevant training and experience in these fields can be translated into civilian qualifications, eliminating the need for duplicative training and opening the door to many more jobs for highly trained veterans.

I can tell you, after seven USO tours, our men and women in the military are magnificent. They are highly trained and, man, are they disciplined and, man, are they great. They deserve this. The Veterans Job Corps is a great idea for employing our Nation's veterans doing the important work of preserving, protecting, and improving our Nation's public lands and serving as first responders, police, and firefighters.

It is my strong hope that we will be able to bring debate on this bill to a close, pass it, and have it enacted into law. Our Nation's veterans deserve nothing less.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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