Tax incentives for hiring vets should be beyond debate

“What our troops need when they come home is more than yellow ribbons, parades and an open heart. They need an open hand. And one of the best ways to extend that hand, to truly honor a veteran, is to hire one.”

-- Adm. Mike Mullen

Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

One of the fiercest debates in the budget and deficit controversy involves the extent to which tax exemptions for private business are tied to job creation. The answer is an unequivocal yes in some cases, such as a high-profile example close to home: the successful recruitment of Kia Motors to West Point.

The “greater good” argument for other tax breaks is considerably more ambiguous (to put it diplomatically): There is more than anecdotal evidence that we are subsidizing the profits and bearing the tax burdens of politically connected interests.

Here’s one tax abatement proposal that renders the argument about job creation moot, because that’s exactly what it’s for. President Obama last week said he will ask Congress to legislate tax breaks for companies that hire veterans.

The president proposed two new tax incentives: a “Returning Heroes” plan under which employers could earn up to $2,400 for hiring recently unemployed vets and $4,800 for hiring those unemployed more than six months, and a “Wounded Warrior” credit of up to $9,600 for hiring disabled vets out of work for more than six months.

A tax incentive for hiring veterans is not a new idea, but right now it’s an especially timely one. The unemployment rate among vets of the post-9/11 era is around 13 percent (compared to 9.1 percent overall), a dreary state of affairs for people who have defended this nation in the decade since the worst attack ever on American soil. Some of those vets, Mullen said last week, have served “five and six and even seven tours of combat.”

The idea is also timely because of the economy. The post-recession “recovery,” such as it is, has definitely been a sputtering engine of job creation, even with a net gain of 117,000 jobs last month. Now, with markets showing signs after the budget battle that even this shaky recovery is in jeopardy, the need for jobs becomes even more critical. An estimated one million vets were unemployed in June, and that number will rise as more vets come home. Veterans of Foreign Wars Commander Richard L. Eubank called it a “national crisis facing unemployed veterans, particularly young veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Employers who hire these vets will go a long way toward alleviating this crisis, and are deserving of tax relief. As for the vets themselves, they deserve more than we can ever repay. But a job would be a good place to start.