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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. KAINE. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce my first bill as a US Senator. It has been delivered to the desk. The bill is the Troop Talent Act of 2013. I am pleased to note it is cosponsored by Senator Saxby Chambliss and Senator Max Baucus.

The bill begins with a problem which I know concerns all Americans, the unemployment rate of our veterans. Currently, the national unemployment rate average is 7.6 percent, but the unemployment rate for veterans is 9.4 percent. That unemployment rate is particularly acute for veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We can't be comfortable if we see the statistic that our veterans have a higher unemployment rate than the national average. It should be otherwise.

In Virginia, where one in nine of our citizens, one in nine of our 8 million citizens from birth to death is a veteran, this is a particularly acute challenge. Frankly, it is only going to get worse as more and more people exit military service in the drawdown from Afghanistan.

What is the reason for the veterans' unemployment rate being higher than the national average? Some of the reasons have to do with medical challenges and issues which are in the province of the VA. I learned of another reason as I was campaigning across the State for 19 months. I heard stories from veterans, and they would say the following: I was in the military. I was a battlefield medic. I got out of the military and tried to get a job as a physician's assistant or a nurse, and I was told I had no credit for all my military service as I tried to transition into the civilian world.

Another stated: I maintained Naval aviation engines for 20 years. Then when I finished and tried to do the same thing on the civilian side, I was told I had to go back and start as if I had no experience.

Another: I operated heavy equipment, but I was told I would need a commercial driver's license.

Many of the members of our military--all of them are gaining skills along the way, but they go into a civilian workforce where their skills and talents are not recognized. In some ways this is a feature of an all-volunteer military. When we had a draft and men were compelled to serve, someone departing military service would go into the workforce and say they were a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps or an E-5 in the Navy, and someone in the workforce would know what it was they had done.

Today only 1 percent of our adults serve in the military. We appreciate what our military members do, but we don't understand their technical skills or their leadership talent.

This is the genesis for the Troop Talent Act of 2013. It is to make sure military members, while they are active, are getting recognized, credentialed credit for the skills they obtain, which will help them get immediate traction back into the civilian workforce.

The True Talent Act has three pillars: The first is the credentialing of military members for the skills they have obtained and the sharing of information between the military branches about the skills they have with servicemembers, the private sector, and with agencies who would credential them with a civilian credential. This is the first pillar, credentialing people for the skills people obtain.

The second pillar is a bit of a policing function. Sometimes folks will prey upon people leaving the military and say: Pay me $500, and I will administer a test which will give you a credential. Then it turns out their credential is worthless.

The VA had a working committee to police these credential-granting agencies to ensure no one was being ripped off. That committee no longer is in service. This bill would restart it.

Finally, the last thing this bill would do would be to take one particular industry sector, information technology, where there is a huge need to hire people and where our military members have significant skills, and this will accelerate credentialing traction for those members back into the military workforce.

There is a current pilot project DOD is working on with certain specialties but not IT. This would seek to expand the pilot programs to add IT to the list where people are credentialed.

In conclusion, this is about doing what the Nation should do for our servicemembers and making sure they receive the traction they deserve for the service they provided. It is not just about the members themselves, it is also about us. We have invested in our service men and women. They have skills, technical and leadership skills, which would help our society be more successful. To the extent we do not allow them traction back in the civilian life, we are not only depriving them, we are depriving ourselves of their strengths and talents.

I am pleased to introduce this bill and honored to have Senators BAUCUS and CHAMBLISS as cosponsors.

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