Patty in the News

WASHINGTON - For the first time, U.S. troops would be required to enroll in a federal job-training program before they're allowed to leave the military under a bill introduced in the Senate on Wednesday, May 11.

Called the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, it's aimed at reducing an unemployment rate of 27 percent for veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We are taking a huge step forward in rethinking the way we treat our men and women in uniform after they leave the military," said Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the chief sponsor of the bill.

Too many returning troops are suffering from "the invisible wounds of war" and need more help finding jobs, said Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

"We read about it in the skyrocketing suicide statistics, problems at home, substance abuse and even in the rising homelessness among our returning veterans," she said at a news conference on the U.S. Capitol lawn.

There's no cost estimate for the bill, but Murray said it would be "incomparable" to what the government pays now. She noted that in 2010, the Department of Defense paid out $500 million in unemployment benefits for Army veterans.

Under the bill, departing service members would learn about such things as job searches, career decision-making, occupational and labor market conditions, interviewing techniques and how to write cover letters and resumes. It would be offered as part of the Transition Assistance Program, which was created by a partnership among the departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Transportation and Labor.

Currently, the program is voluntary. But officials said roughly a third of all those leaving the Army fail to participate.

Murray, 60, said that for too long Americans have patted veterans on the back, thanked them for their service and then "pushed them out into the job market alone."

She said she wants to make sure that returning troops end up with good careers and don't end up homeless or addicted or as "a generation lost." And she said her bill would allow Americans not to make the same mistakes of her generation, when too many Vietnam veterans were ignored when they returned home.

"Today we stand on the brink of repeating those mistakes," Murray said. "We cannot let that happen."

Murray and other proponents of the legislation said that too often veterans find out that certificates they've earned for different lines of military work are not accepted when they apply for civilian jobs.

And she said that one of the first things that veterans learn is that employers are reluctant to hire them because they fear they may have mental health issues.

"I've had veterans tell me that they no longer write on their resume that they are a veteran because they fear the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war," Murray said.

Veterans groups welcomed the bill and said they would fight for its passage.

It's way too soon to determine whether the bill has any chance of becoming law. Murray said her committee will not hold a hearing until early June, and a companion bill has yet to be introduced in the House.