This September will mark the two-year anniversary of the Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012 currently blocked by the Senate. The bill, which was drafted on bipartisan lines, would have created jobs for up to 20,000 veterans. This defeat came at a time when one out of four young veterans were unemployed, when 76,000 veterans went homeless on any given night, and when suicide rate for veterans was more than 500 a month. So, why did this happen? What caused the Senate to vote down a bill that would have benefited thousands of the dedicated men and women who served this great country? First, let’s take a look at what the bill would have done.
The bill was sponsored by Washington Democrat Senator Patty Murray and brought to vote on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012. It called for the creation of a Veterans Jobs Corp by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs that would employ veterans in the conservation, management, and maintenance of public lands, or as firefighters, law enforcement officers, and emergency response personnel, among others.
Senate Republicans opposed the bill, citing it as a violation of The Budget Control Act, a bill that prohibits new programs that add to the deficit. Democrats argued though that The Veterans Jobs Corps Act would have paid for itself through fees on Medicare providers and suppliers who are delinquent on their tax bills. The bill needed 60 votes to waive Republican objections and to move forward for consideration; it received 58.
The vote was essentially split by party lines, with 51 Democrats, five Republicans, and two Independents. This came as a shock to many; typically, when voting on legislation related to veterans and their well-being, our elected officials tend to rise above political parities. Additionally, one week prior, the Senate voted 95 to 1 in favor of the bill before it was filibustered by Senator Rand Paul. Again, one must ask, what happened?
The answer seems to be politics: September 2012 was a highly contentious time as Democrats and Republicans fought for support and the country looked forward to a Presidential election. Democrats viewed the bill’s defeat as a Republican measure to prevent any positive association with the White House (where the idea for a Veterans Jobs Corp originated) while Republicans argued that Democrats only promoted the bill for such positive attention in the first place. Whatever the reason for the bill’s promotion or defeat, the people who truly had the most to gain, and ultimately the most to lose, were veterans.
So, where are we now? This past March, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the 2013 unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the US Armed Forces at any time since September 2001 is 9.0 percent — almost 3 percent higher than the Bureau’s reported national rate, VA benefits are so backlogged that there have been reports of claims not being scanned for three years, and since 2011, veteran suicide rates have tripled with young veterans being the highest risk age category. These statistics are clear markers that the men and women who served in the armed forces need our government’s help in making the transition back to civilian life. We need bipartisan efforts to pass legislation that will create jobs, give veterans the benefits they deserve, and ultimately allow vets to create a life outside of the military.
With the midterm elections ahead of us, we as veterans and as a country need to decide how we want Congress to run. In the past two years, Congress has shown us that party lines have come to outweigh the needs of the people they were elected to represent, so much so that they would rather shut down the government rather than see the Affordable Care Act pass. We need to make informed choices about the people we choose to represent us.
Lastly, there is still hope: The Department of Veterans Affairs 2015 fiscal budget includes an additional $1 billion dollars in mandatory funding to create a Veterans Job Corps program over the next five years. Congress determines whether this part of the budget is kept, emphasizing once more the importance of the upcoming elections. Veterans have fought and served diligently for our country, it’s time for Congress to serve them.
Tabatha T. Turman is founder, president and CEO of Integrated Finance and Accounting Solutions LLC and a US Army Veteran.