First lady: Jobs program has led to training or hiring of 290,000 veterans, military spouses

WASHINGTON – First lady Michelle Obama announced Tuesday that companies participating in a program to help veterans find work have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses since August 2011, nearly tripling the original goal of the program with about eight months to spare.

Obama said Tuesday that the program called Joining Forces has also generated pledges from businesses to hire or train another 435,000 in the next five years.

The new hiring projections came at a White House event with veterans and company executives that also featured President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and Jill Biden. The president said that too many companies still don’t recognize the skills that service members acquire as part of their military service. If they can saves live on the battlefield, they can work in an ambulance or hospital, and if they can oversee a convoy of equipment, they can help oversee a company’s supply chain, he said.

“Too often, just when these men and women are looking forward to the next chapter of their lives, they are stuck in neutral,” the president said.

Overall, the unemployment rate for veterans is actually lower than that for non-veterans. The nation’s youngest veterans are the exception to that longstanding trend, with nearly one out of five under the age of 25 looking for a job. The unemployment rate last year was also in double-digits for those 25-34. Overall, the unemployment rate for those veterans serving since the Sept. 11 attacks stood at 9.9 per cent last year, a significant improvement from the previous year.

But Mrs. Obama said more help is needed. She called on private companies to step up hiring to keep up with the demand that will occur as nearly 1 million members of the military become civilians in the next few years.

“These efforts are about so much more than a paycheque. This is about giving these men and women a source of identify and purpose,” she said. “This is about providing thousands of families with financial security and giving our veterans and military spouses the confidence that they can provide a better future for their children.”

The statistics announced Tuesday are based on totals provided by companies participating in the program. The first lady’s office said the Joining Forces program collects information from each company on either a monthly or quarterly basis.

Obama noted that he has proposed a permanent extension of a tax break that Congress approved in late 2011. Employers get up to a $5,600 tax credit for hiring a veteran out of work for more than six months, or up to $9,600 for hiring a disabled veteran out of work for the same amount of time. The White House has also been encouraging governors and state legislators to make it easier for veterans to apply their military experience when trying to get a professional license or credential at home. But, in the end, it’s up to private companies to do the hiring, the first lady said.

The emphasis on jobs for veterans gives the White House a chance to focus on an issue where there’s been progress. Meanwhile, lawmakers and veterans groups are focusing more attention of late on resolving a disability claims backlog for veterans that has gotten worse in recent years. Lawmakers from both parties have recently called on the president to get more involved and to set a clear plan for resolving claims more quickly, but they offered no specific recommendations on what changes are needed.

Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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