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Mr. BLUMENTHAL. Madam President, like many of my colleagues, I am very proud to support the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012.
Very simply, this measure keeps faith with our veterans, offers them employment opportunities commensurate not only with what they have given to the country, what they have served and sacrificed to accomplish and give back, but also with their skills and talents and gifts that have been enhanced and enlarged by their military service. This measure addresses the chronic and persistent problem of unemployment among our young veterans. It is a searing indictment of our Nation that unemployment among these young veterans is many percentage points higher than the average population.
What is happening in this country is that a new generation is returning home--a new generation of veterans ready to work, wanting to serve in civilian life just as they had in the military. With the ending of the war in Iraq and the winding down of our presence in Afghanistan, 200,000 servicemembers are transitioning to the civilian workforce every year.
In July 2011 there were 232,000 post-9/11 era veterans unemployed. That is 12.4 percent as an unemployment rate. The August jobs report of this year shows that the most recent unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is 10.9 percent, and for Connecticut it is just under 10 percent.
There are many more statistics that show unemployment rates for these young veterans--particularly for our enlisted men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan--are higher, some would estimate double the average rate across the population. They are an indictment of our commitment and our obligation unfulfilled so far by the greatest Nation in the history of the world.
Too often in our history we have failed to keep faith, and we have left veterans behind. I have advocated measures in health care, counseling, training, and employment opportunities. But I want to focus on one measure in particular where all of us joined forces and reached a consensus as recently as last November.
The Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012 is a new measure that would provide opportunities in conservation and in other kinds of public service, firefighting, and police. But there is an existing measure whose very life is threatened because it will expire in 2012. This measure is the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, specifically the tax credits under those measures for hiring unemployed or disabled veterans. Those tax credits will expire at the end of this year unless they are renewed. That is the reason I am introducing legislation, along with cosponsors Senators Webb, Cantwell, Tom Udall, Heller, and Mikulski, that extends the VOW to Hire Heroes Act tax credit through the end of 2016.
This measure is important to be extended because it offers these veterans new opportunities, and promotes and incentivizes employers to put our veterans to work.
Hiring a veteran is not only the right thing to do to honor the men and women who have sacrificed, the men and women of our country, it also makes good business sense. Veterans are among our most highly skilled, capable, disciplined, reliable, and dedicated workers. Businesses ought to relish their services. Countless businesses big and small have already found that veterans are a tremendous asset to their workforce. This bill is important to build on the measures we have in place. Simply, it makes these veterans even more attractive.
Last month I visited the Arna Machine Company in Bristol, CT, and I talked with a young veteran whose name is Nick Saucier, a former Army sniper who served in Afghanistan and now works there as a machinist. Being a former Army sniper, Nick knows about precision and care, taking your time to be on target. He is now training to use computer-assisted manufacturing software with the same care and precision and discipline that he developed in his Army training as a sniper.
While I was at Arna, I talked to Stephen Shanahan, the president of the company, who is very proud and rightly proud of having 42 employees and growing in this tough economy. He is hiring and he said to me these tax credits have helped him fill positions with young qualified personnel who are veterans.
I have also worked with Congressman Chris Murphy to survey manufacturers about veteran hiring. This legislation is the result of those conversations and discussions, the data and the feedback we received, as well as consultation with my friend Bud Bucha, who has helped me time and again address the challenges facing veterans.
These tax credits will expire, they will end unless we renew them. We owe it to our veterans, to our business community, to manufacturers and small businesses that want to do the right thing, to make sure they have this incentive. I have heard from employers and veterans firsthand that many of them were not aware of this tax credit, so I have proposed as part of this legislation increased measures to create awareness and spread the word about these tax incentives so that big companies with their tax attorneys, but also smaller companies that may not have the consultants and the accountants to do this kind of work, know of it and take advantage of it.
This measure also simplifies the process for veterans and small businesses to take advantage of the tax incentives. Currently, to be a ``qualified veteran,'' individuals must gain approval through a local employment agency, which can be unnecessarily time consuming and burdensome to them and to the potential employer. This bill offered today would modify the Work Opportunity Tax Credit process to allow individuals to be considered qualified veterans for tax purposes if they simply provide a DD 214, have an honorable discharge, and valid proof of unemployment.
This bill would also extend the amount of time employers have to take advantage of tax credits for hiring unemployed or disabled veterans, enhancing its use to countless small businesses as well as veterans. It would allow employers to take advantage of these tax credits for an additional 4 years, providing returning service men and women with a clear path to employment when they need it, and they will need it over these 4 years.
I am very honored that this bill has been endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, which have been championing employment opportunities for veterans.
I urge my colleagues to continue their support for veterans by supporting this legislation which will create more good jobs. We owe our veterans more good jobs. And it will grow our economy.
Let me say, finally, nearly three-quarters of a million veterans--to be more precise, 742,000 men and women--are eligible for the employer hiring tax credits. Let's do the right thing. Let's extend these tax credits. We adopted them overwhelmingly last November in the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. We have it in our power and it is our obligation to meet this challenge. For our veterans we should do no less.
I yield the floor.
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