3% Withholding Repeal and Job Creation Act

Floor Speech

Date: Nov. 9, 2011
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Ms. KLOBUCHAR. Mr. President, I rise today to speak in support of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act 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 when their benefits are messed up, when redtape gets in the way. I will never forget one last year where one of the Patriot guards, who stands on the side and holds the flag during funerals for our servicemembers, came to me in tears and said her son had been badly hurt serving our country. In fact, he had lost his leg. When he came back, he was at Walter Reed. He was fitted with a prosthetic leg, and then he came home. When he was trying to get his benefits, he was told he could not 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. Those stories are told all across the country. There is redtape. We must all help them. But it just goes to show, when you see those stories what our young soldiers are doing every single day.

This also means fighting for legislation that fulfills American's promise that we will care for our soldiers when they return. When our soldiers signed up to fight for our country, there was no 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 should not be a waiting line. Yet, sadly, when you look at the past decades, too often there is. When I came into the Senate, as my friend from Rhode Island came in in 2006, we all remember the horror stories with our veterans' health care. We remember what had happened at our medical hospitals. We remember the stories of soldiers getting lost in the cracks. That is why we worked so hard to make sure they got the health care they deserve.

We provided for historic funding increases to ensure top-quality health care for American servicemembers and military retirees. We also passed a post-9/11 GI bill to expand educational benefits for veterans who have served in the past decade. But there is more work to be done to support our veterans.

Consider two shocking facts. The unemployment rate for Minnesota veterans who have served since 9/11 is nearly 23 percent, 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 it is 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 Minnesota veterans are homeless on any given night. 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 not right. That is why I am calling on my colleagues today to vote to support the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. This important bill goes a long way in providing our returning veterans the leg up they need in transitioning into the workforce.

I will 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 6 months, as well as a $2,400 credit for veterans who are unemployed for more than 4 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 6 months.

Second, the VOW Act increases training for returning veterans so that by the time they step out of their uniforms 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 Departments 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 are not eligible for the post-9/11 GI bill.

The bill provides 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with up to 1 year of additional Montgomery GI 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 1 year of additional vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits.

Last, the VOW Act allows servicemembers to begin the Federal employment process prior to separation, to help them transition seamlessly into jobs at the VA, the Department of Homeland Security, or the many other Federal agencies that could use their skills and dedication.

The fact is our returning veterans have battle-tested skills that are valuable to employers 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 redtape and streamline credentialing for servicemembers who have achieved certain skill sets through their military training. I am 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 served in Iraq and Afghanistan. They served as paramedics on the front lines, and they learned incredible skills and how to save lives. Those skills weren't all transferable into becoming paramedics once they returned to the United States. 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 they have received. Not only does it help veterans, but it relieves the shortage of emergency medical personnel in rural areas.

With commonsense solutions like these and those contained in the VOW Act, I believe we can help returning veterans transition into the workforce, not only fulfilling our commitment to them but also helping to lift our economy. Having traveled to the western part of our State in the last few weeks, I cannot tell you the number of job openings right now for welders and tool and die. I have been at companies that literally have dozens of openings--not only starting jobs but for engineers. They want military personnel and they need to connect with them and we need to encourage our employers to hire veterans when they come back.

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 them. I want to end with a story from last Veterans Day.

After doing our statewide event, I headed up to Wadena, MN, which is an area that was torn apart by a tornado, literally ripped up. Their high school was destroyed. The high school bleachers were three blocks from where they had been. On Veterans Day, they held the annual event, but they could no longer have it at the high school, which was destroyed. They could no longer have it at some of the other places they used to, so they were all in an elementary school the entire time--all the high school kids and all the veterans sitting on old bleachers in that elementary school. I spoke there.

What I will never forget is the elementary school kids singing a song that I had never heard before, but I had heard the melody. I remember the Ken Burns movie on World War II. These are the lyrics:

All we've been given by those who come 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.

That is what those elementary school kids sang after the whole school had been torn apart--with veterans at their side: ``America, America, I gave my best to you.''

I think that is what we have to remember as we approach this vote on this VOW Act. This vote, to me, is so simple--that we simply give a tax credit so more employers will hire those who have sacrificed for our country, those who gave their best for our country. That is what this vote is about.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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