By Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) - 05/21/13 10:49 PM EDT
Memorial Day is a time when we reflect on the service and sacrifice of our nation’s service members and veterans. These individuals selflessly give themselves to defend our freedoms, and we are constantly humbled by their strength and courage.
While we may never repay the debt borne by those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, we must never waiver in our commitment to honor their memory by caring for those who continue the fight.
The departure of troops from Iraq and the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan, combined with the ongoing reduction in the overall size of the U.S. military, means we must focus our efforts on making sure that the appropriate services are in place to help veterans and their families make a smooth transition from active military duty into civilian life.
Whether that is by ensuring veterans and their families receive their earned disability compensation and VA healthcare quickly and hassle-free, or making sure veterans can translate their military experience into a post-military career, there are a number of areas where we can improve.
I’d like to focus, however, on the issue of employment as it has far-reaching effects on a veteran’s process of reintegration. Separating servicemen and servicewomen will be entering a civilian economy that continues to suffer from one of the slowest recoveries since the Great Depression. While significant progress has been made since last year, too many veterans still remain unemployed or underemployed. To that end, in March, I introduced the Careers for Veterans Act, which would help create long-term, sustainable jobs for America’s veterans without adding to the national deficit.
Our challenge in Congress is to find ways to assist veterans in leveraging the incredible skill sets developed while in the military. We must ensure that the training and skills veterans acquired while in military service are accurately documented by the Department of Defense, and that those qualifications are depicted in a way private sector employers understand.
We need to find ways to streamline the state license and certification process for veterans when appropriate. Private sector businesses are looking for specific licenses and certifications to determine whether a potential job candidate is qualified for a position. Even though a veteran may have the experience and training a business is seeking, oftentimes they leave the military without the necessary documents to prove their expertise to a potential employer.
A number of states, including North Carolina, have passed laws that allow the state to issue an applicable license or certification to a veteran if the training received while in the military meets the state’s standard. These initiatives alleviate the need for redundant training and give veterans the credentials companies can readily understand.
The Career for Veterans Act calls on states to mirror these types of efforts and offer testing to veterans with military training: If he or she passes, the veteran will be granted the appropriate license or certification. Additionally, the bill calls on federal agencies to use the Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA) authority to hire 10,000 veterans to fill existing vacancies over the next five years. Veterans have been trained on some of the most technologically advanced equipment, and they are well placed to enter the job market in the 21st century and be a productive force in our economy. This bill unleashes that potential.
Our goal should be to prepare veterans for careers, not short-term jobs. By addressing veterans’ long-term employment needs, we not only provide them the financial security to support themselves and their families, but also a platform upon which to reintegrate into their communities and society as a whole. A career can be a very powerful force and positively affect all aspects of a person’s life.
The Careers for Veterans Act won’t solve all the problems facing the veteran community, but the bill represents a common-sense solution to a major challenge in our society. Service members and their families have sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms. It is now our obligation to look for ways to assist those leaving the military in honor of that sacrifice.
Burr is the senior U.S. senator from North Carolina and the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.