Here’s a Georgia legislative initiative that ought to get unhesitating and unquestioning bipartisan backing. Its sponsors, including a member of the Columbus delegation, are confident it will.
Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. He and two fellow senators who, like Harbison, are veterans themselves have announced co-sponsorship of legislation to make life and livelihood better for vets who are struggling to get back into the civilian job market.
The legislation Harbison, Sen. Lester Jackson, D-Savannah, and Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur are proposing would create a state tax credit for private employers who hire vets, especially disabled or long-unemployed vets; create a task force to study ways Georgia can help its veterans returning from combat zones; make it easier for vets to pay college and other postsecondary education costs with VA benefits; and give vets academic credit or professional qualifications for training and skills they learned in service.
The appropriateness of helping returning vets is something very few Americans would challenge, but many are probably unaware of the size of the need. Nationwide, as bad as the job picture has been for American civilians, it’s substantially worse for younger veterans. Those who have been in military service since the terror attacks of 2001 have a higher unemployment rate than non-veterans: Afghanistan and Iraq vets had a January unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, compared to 8.7 percent for non-vets. Those four-tenths of a percentage point translate to a lot of jobs for a lot of veterans who need them.
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Employment assistance, of course, isn’t the only kind of help some of our returning men and women in service need. The special stresses and traumas of combat lead to problems like mental illness, substance abuse and family strains. Post-traumatic stress and other mental problems make getting a job even harder, especially for those veterans whose problems might be a contributing factor in criminal activity.
Even for veterans who have been spared such serious problems, returning vets find themselves facing needless employment hurdles because skills they learned in the service might not be counted as assets, academically or professionally.
“The training that you receive in the military can be just as intense and you get work experience on top of it,” Kenyatta Thomas, who works with veterans at the state Labor Department office in Savannah, told the Savannah Morning News. “To get out of the military and be denied a job because you don’t have a degree, it frustrates them. And rightfully so.”
Harbison doesn’t foresee any partisan opposition: “If it’s military, usually I get a bipartisan hand across the aisle,” he told the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, as this was being written, we were awaiting details on ethics legislation being announced by the other local member of the upper chamber, Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus. More on that welcome news soon.