Jobless young veterans
The job market is not getting better for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday the national unemployment rate remains mostly unchanged at 9 percent, while the jobless rate for veterans of all generations dropped to 7.7 percent in October, down from 8.1 percent in September. But for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans who left active duty since 2001, the unemployment rate for October was 12.1 percent, up from 11.7 percent in September and from an average of 10.5 percent in 2010.
The economy created just 80,000 jobs in October, resulting in only a 0.1 percentage point drop in the national unemployment rate, according to the Labor Department report.
Friday’s release of the monthly employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics comes as Congress continues to try to pass a bill to help jobless veterans find work. The veterans’ affairs committees in the House and Senate have their own ideas, and the Obama administration has made its own proposals, including a tax credit for businesses hiring veterans. An agreement, though, has proven elusive.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, set a personal goal of passing a compromise veterans’ jobs bill in time for it to become law by Veterans’ Day on Nov. 11. It remains unclear if that goal can be met. While veterans’ issues are mostly nonpartisan, the possibility of adding the employer tax credits from President Obama’s American Jobs Act to a compromise measure has become a last-minute hurdle because of reluctance by some Republicans to passing any Obama-proposed jobs legislation.
While Congress dithers, the Obama administration has launched a pre-Veterans’ Day public relations offensive to list myriad programs aimed at helping veterans find jobs.
This includes loans and counseling from the Small Business Administration for veterans and Guard and reserve members who want to start their own business — an option that’s getting more attention since high-paying jobs are scare. William Elmore, SBA’s associate administration for veterans’ business development, said there are 15 veterans outreach centers scattered throughout the U.S. Veterans can also get help at any of the 950 small-business development centers, he said. Additionally, there are small-business mentors to help guide veterans, special veterans-only loans of up to $500,000 to start or expand a business, and micro-loans of up to $50,000 to help when a business is in trouble.
Improvements also are being made in the transition classes provided to service members, in hopes of better tailoring them to individual needs. The stalled veterans’ employment legislation would make attendance at the transition classes mandatory for most separating and retiring service members — a requirement aimed more at getting military commanders to free people to attend the classes than to convince people of the importance of getting help.
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
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Legislation introduced in the House would require the Veterans Affairs Department to create a register for veterans who have health problems they believe are related to exposure to open-air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The bill, the Open Burn Pit Registry Act, HR 3337, is sponsored by Rep. Todd Akin, R-Mo. It aims to widen the understanding of exposure, the possible health consequences and extent of symptoms service members report as a result of the Defense Department’s extensive use of burn pits in the war zones.
Among the waste burned in the pits were plastic bottles, paper trash, human offal and medical waste that included needles and syringes, soiled bandages and even amputated limbs, according to anecdotal reports provided by those who served near the largest pit at Joint Base Balad, Iraq.
“I have worked with a number of my constituents who were exposed to burn pits while serving in the military and have been suffering from very severe health problems since,” Akin said. “We want to create a repository for information so as these different situations occur, we have a record of them and we can track them, because different ailments take place over an extended period of time, like cancer.”
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., plans to offer a companion bill in the Senate, Akin said.
“With this registry, we can ensure that those who have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes while serving overseas are better informed about the effects so they can properly treated,” Udall said in a prepared statement.
Veterans and support groups lobbied for the legislation. For Aubrey Tapley, a former Army sergeant with the advocacy group Burn Pits 360, the register is personal.
Tapley was stationed at Balad in 2004 and began experiencing symptoms that included severe headaches, abdominal pain and fatigue. After being medically evacuated and discharged, she endured several operations for uterine growths and has been treated for rheumatoid arthritis and severe migraines.
“I’m now 100 percent disabled. I used to be in the Army. I used to be able to run two miles in less than 19 minutes,” she said.Other veterans groups that rallied behind the legislation include Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion and the National Military Family Association.
“There are a lot of veterans out there who look healthy but they can’t breathe. They can’t walk up stairs. The science will eventually back all this up, but in the meantime, how do we properly identify the people who, through their exposures, their service, deserve benefits? This legislation is a great first step in this direction,” said Shane Barker, VFW’s senior legislative associate.
Akin estimates the registry would cost VA $2 million over five years to establish and maintain. If approved, it would require VA to establish the database within six months of passage and publicize it.
The Defense Department closed its last burn pit in Iraq in December 2010. It still operates about 100 small pits in Afghanistan and is working to replace them with cleaner-burning incinerators, said Pentagon spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.
DAV maintains a database of 594 veterans who say they have ailments related to their proximity to burn pits. But the organization believes many more have been affected by environmental hazards they encountered when deployed.
“It’s imperative we take steps now so we are prepared for when service members exposed to burn pits have problems later … this will help to ensure that we do better in the future than we did in the past, when Vietnam veterans suffered from their own exposure with Agent Orange,” DAV associate national legislative director John Wilson said.
By Patricia Kime - Staff writer