Obama Moves to Support Veterans

In the latest of a string of policies that will benefit America's veterans, the Obama administration this week announced the creation of a new Veterans Employment Initiative. The measure will make the federal government a 'model employer of America's veterans,' the White House said.

The program, created by executive order, will open new offices in each federal department that will focus on recruiting and hiring veterans. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that as a part of this new initiative her department will add some 50,000 veterans to its workforce by 2012.

The Department of Labor reported this month that returning veterans are unemployed at a rate of 11.3 percent. That is more than a full percentage point higher than the national average. Approximately 185,000 veterans who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan are out of work.

“Honoring our sacred trust with America’s veterans,' President Obama said in a statement, 'means doing all we can to help them find work when they come home so they never feel as if the American Dream they fought to defend is out of reach for them and their families.”

“Veterans have shown unmatched dedication to public service,” said Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. “They offer leadership and technical skills that are in high demand, whether in the public or private workforce.'

“Veterans are an important part of our nation’s past, present and future. They deserve our full support as they reintegrate into the civilian workforce,” said Labor Secretary Hilda Solis.

In addition to this major new jobs initiative, President Obama late last month signed a bill that will help the Department of Veterans Affairs deliver better services, like medical care, by providing “advanced funding” for its annual budget.

Previously, VA health centers had to ration care to veterans because they never knew ahead of time how much money their facility would get from the federal government each year.

Veterans’ service organizations had pushed for this change in how federal dollars were appropriated to the VA for the past two decades. Both former President Bush and Republican congressional leaders refused to make the change.

This issue was so important that Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) made it a top legislative priority in 2009.

In a recent blog post IAVA Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff wrote, 'With the President's signature, timely, predictable funding for veterans' health care will become the norm ... and the VA will be forced to become a more proactive department.'

President Obama also included more than $1.4 billion in funding to improve VA hospitals and medical centers as part of his economic recovery act.

The AFL-CIO's Union Veterans Council this week praised the president’s effort to reduce unemployment among veterans. It urged strengthening and enforcing the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protects the right of veterans to claim their former jobs when they return from active duty.