Thank you, Mr. President. I rise today to speak in support of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, which has been offered as an amendment by my friend from Montana, Senator Jon Tester.
This Friday is Veterans Day. On this day every year, Americans join together to honor the men and women in uniform who have served and sacrificed for our country.
Think of the work we do for our veterans. Some of it is very small, small to us but not small to them. We have people call our office all the time, Mr. President, when there are mess-ups with their benefits, when red tape gets in the way.
I'll never forget one last year where one of the patriot guard who stands outside and holds the flag during funerals for our service members, she came to me in tears and said that her son had been badly hurt serving our country. In fact, he had lost his leg. And when he came back, he was at Walter Reed, he was fit with a prosthetic leg and then he came home. And when he was trying to get his benefits, he was told he couldn't get his benefits for losing his leg - this is a true story - because the records had been lost that showed that he lost his leg. He had no leg. We worked on it and within a week we got his benefits.
And those stories are all told across the country. There is red tape. We must all help them. But it just goes show when you see those stories, what our young soldiers are doing every single day. This also means fighting for legislation to fulfill America's promise that we will care for our soldiers when they return.
When our soldiers signed up to fight for our country, there wasn't a waiting line. And when they come home to the United States of America and they need a job or they need a home or they need medical care or they need an education, there shouldn't be a waiting line in our country. Yet, sadly, when you look at the past decades, too often there is.
When I came into the Senate, as my friend in Rhode Island came in, in 2006, we all remember the horror stories with our veteran’s health care. We remember what had happened at our medical hospitals. We remember the stories of soldiers getting lost in the cracks. And that's why we worked so hard to make sure that they got the health care that they deserve.
We provided for historic funding increases to ensure top-quality health care for America's service members and military retirees. We also passed the post-9/11 G.I. Bill to expand educational benefits for veterans who have served in the past decade.
But there is more work to be done - but there is more work to be done to support our veterans. Consider two shocking facts, Mr. President.
The unemployment rate for Minnesota veterans who have served since 9/11 is nearly 23%, the third highest in the nation, yet our unemployment rate is one of the lower ones in the nation. Our unemployment rate is two points better than the national average. Yet for veterans, it's almost double the national average for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and more than three times our state's overall unemployment rate.
Second fact -- an estimated 700 minimum veterans are homeless on any given night, and during the course of the year, an estimated 4,000 Minnesota veterans will experience an episode of homelessness or a crisis that could lead to homelessness.
This is just not right.
That's why I'm calling on my colleagues today to vote to support the VOW to Hire Heroes Act.
This important bill gaze long way in providing - bill goes a long way in providing our returning veterans the leg up they need in transitioning into the work force.
To list just a few important provisions of this bill - it encourages companies to hire unemployed veterans by offering them tax credits to do so. The bill provides employers a tax credit of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, as well as a $2,400 credit for veterans who are unemployed for more than four weeks. The bill also provides employers a tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.
Second, the VOW Act increases training for returning veterans so that by the time they step out of their uniform, they have the skills and the tools they need to get out there and market themselves to find a job. The bill does this by making it a requirement for returning troops to participate in the transition assistance program, a job-training boot camp coordinated by the Department of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs that teaches veterans how to get those jobs, write those resumes, apply their military skills to civilian jobs.
Third, the VOW Act expands education benefits for older veterans, people who aren't the bill provides 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with additional G.I. benefits to go toward education or training programs at community colleges or technical schools.
Fourth, the VOW Act ensures that disabled veterans receive up to one year of additional vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits.
And last, the VOW Act allows service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation to help them transition seamlessly into jobs at the V.A., the Department of Homeland Security or the many other federal agencies that could use their skills and their dedication.
The fact is that our returning veterans are battle tested, they are valuable to employers that can work in all kinds of fields.
Helping our veterans turn the skills they learned in the military into good-paying jobs not only honors our promise to support those who have sacrificed for our nation, it also helps strengthen our nation.
One of my top priorities in the Senate has been to cut through the red tape and streamline credentialing for service members who have achieved certain skill sets through their military training.
I'm offering an amendment to the VOW Act that will streamline credentialing for returning military paramedics. I learned about this one time when i was driving around our state, and i met a number of those who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They served as paramedics there. They served on the front lines. They learned incredible skills of how to save lives, yet those skills weren't all transferable into becoming paramedics once they came back to the United States, yet at the same time we have an incredible shortage of paramedics in our rural areas. So I am going to introduce this as an amendment that would fix this problem by encouraging states to give paramedics credit for the military medical training that they have received. Not only does this help our veterans, it also helps relieve the shortage of emergency medical personnel in the rural areas.
With commonsense solutions like these and the commonsense solutions contained in the VOW Act, I believe we can help our returning veteran’s transition into the work force, not only fulfilling our commitment to them but also helping to lift our economy.
Having traveled in the western part of our state in the last few weeks, I cannot tell you the number of job openings right now. I have been at companies that literally have dozens of openings, not only starting jobs, engineers. They want these military personnel. They need to connect with them, and we need to encourage our employers to hire these veterans when they come back from serving our country.
Our state has always been a state that understands the debt we owe to the men and women who have served and sacrificed for us. We literally wrap our arms around those who have served.
I want to end with a story from last Veterans Day. After doing our statewide event, I headed up to Wadena, Minnesota, which is an area that had been torn apart, a little town, by a tornado, literally a mile ripped up. Their school was destroyed, high school bleachers three blocks from where they had been. So on Veterans Day, they held their annual event but could no longer have it at the high school. The high school was destroyed. They could no longer have it at some of the other places they used to be.
They were all in an elementary school. The entire town, all the high school kids, all the veterans sitting on these old bleachers in that elementary school. And I got to speak there. What I will never forget is that the elementary kids sang a song that I had never heard before but I heard the melody and I remember the Ken Burns movie from World War II, and it was a song from that movie, and this is what the lyrics are. They said –
"All we have been given by those who came before, the dream of a nation where freedom would endure. The work and prayers of centuries have brought us to this day. What shall be our legacy, what will our children say? Let them say of me I was one who believed in sharing the blessings that i received. Let me know in my heart when my days are through, America, America, I gave my best to you."
And that's what those elementary kids sang after their whole school had been torn apart with those veterans at their side. America, America, I gave my best to you. So I think that's what we have to remember as we approach this vote on this VOW Act, this vote that to me is so simple, that we simply give a tax credit so that more employers will hire those who sacrificed for our country who gave their best for our country. That's what this vote is about. Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.