Bill would provide new education benefits to veterans who lost their job over the pandemic

Abbie Bennett
June 04, 2020 - 4:30 pm

Office of the Secretary of Defense Public Affairs

Top Veterans Affairs lawmakers on Capitol Hill on Thursday introduced legislation aimed at helping veterans who have lost jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

With veteran unemployment reaching nearly 12 percent in recent weeks, lawmakers have increasingly sought avenues to get veterans back to work as advocates warn that the pandemic could cause a spike in veteran homelessness. On Thursday, House Veterans Affairs ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tenn., Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, Senate ranking member Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Rep. Mike Levin, D-Calif., introduced the Veterans Economic Recovery Act.

Last year, veteran unemployment fell to near 3 percent -- the lowest it had been in nearly two decades. But the pandemic has left waves of millions of Americans out of work. Women veterans were hit particularly hard, with unemployment at about 20 percent in April compared to about 15.5 percent for non-veteran women. Some early estimates show as many as 1.2 million veterans in major industries could be affected by layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts. 

The Veterans Economic Recovery Act main focus is a rapid retraining program to provide unemployed veterans and reservists with 12 months of education benefits to transition to high-demand jobs. Those benefits would be equivalent to the benefits provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. 

"America’s veterans are dedicated, talented, and hard-working leaders in their fields, as employers around the world can attest," Roe said in a statement. "That is why the veteran unemployment rate reached its lowest level in modern history earlier this year. Unfortunately, veterans -- particularly young veteran women -- have not been spared from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 virus and by our national response to it. I am introducing (this bill) today to rapidly retrain those veterans so that they have the knowledge and skillset they need to successfully transition from military to civilian life, quickly reenter the workforce, and thrive in the post-pandemic economy."

"We have made great strides to lower the veteran unemployment rate," Moran said. "Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a setback in veterans' employment. The (bill) will provide retraining opportunities to help our veterans and their spouses find meaningful jobs so they can provide for themselves and their families. These men and women, who have raised their right hand to serve, deserve no less during this crisis that we are facing."
 

If the bill passes and the program is established, to be eligible veterans must: 

  • "Be between 25 and 60 years old;
  • Be unemployed on the day they apply for the program;
  • Have an honorable or other-than-honorable discharge;
  • Not be eligible for any other VA education benefit;
  • Not be enrolled in another federal or state job training program;
  • Not receiving disability compensation for reasons that led to un-employability;
  • Not be receiving any unemployment benefit when they start training under the program." 

Lawmakers said members of the National Guard or Reserve activated under federal orders for coronavirus response would also be eligible for the program if they meet the other age, unemployment and discharge requirements. 

The bill also includes measures of a bill from House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., which intends ot expand and improve the VET TEC pilot program as well as another bill, the Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William Mulder Transition Improvement Act, which aims to help veterans and service members transition to civilian life.

"With veteran unemployment on the rise, it’s critical that we expand resources to swiftly get these folks trained and back to work,” Tester said. "The reality is that the coronavirus hasn’t spared our nation’s service members — and we’ve got to work twice as hard to make certain these men and women get the support they earned during their service."

The bill will "strengthen existing retraining job opportunities and establish new resources to get veterans employed and back on their feet," Tester added.

“Members of the National Guard never stop serving their communities and our country, and their communities and families depend upon them now more than ever," said Frank Yoakum, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States. "Making sure they have the support they need to retrain and reenter the workforce is the least we can do to honor their service.”

As of Friday, a historic number of National Guard members -- 75,000 --- were deployed in response to the coronavirus pandemic and "civil unrest" across the country in the form of protests of police brutality and racial inequity following the death of George Floyd and other black Americans. 

The legislation has the support of veteran service organizations including the VFW, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, IAVA, WWP, Student Veterans, Blinded Veterans Association, TAPS, Veterans Education Success, National Guard Association of the United States and more. 

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Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

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