In 2013, my platoon was driving in a convoy in Afghanistan when my gunner notified me that armed men were scaling a mountain. He had to make a split-second decision: Were they friendlies or Taliban soldiers? If we opened fire and they were Afghan National Police, it would have been an international incident. And if we didn’t open fire and it turned out they were Taliban fighters, our platoon was at risk.
He said to me, “Sir, I think they’re friendlies.’ He was right. He was 18 years old and making a life-or-death decision with the confidence and sound judgement some never develop.
That doesn’t just happen. After they enlist, our troops go through the best leadership training in the world. And when they are out in the field, we trust them to execute highly complex missions, operate billion-dollar hardware, and make the hardest decisions under the most difficult circumstances. And no one does it better than they do.
But when they come home it’s like we forget all of that. Yes, we thank them for their service — and that’s important. But we don’t put them on the frontlines of our most pressing domestic concerns.
With over 450,000 unemployed veterans in this country, that’s a problem. Because our troops are much more than national treasures; they are national assets. And it’s time we started treating them that way. Here’s how we can do it:
First, Congress should reform the G.I. bill to allow veterans to use their education benefits for apprenticeship and certification programs, and allow for education and training credits to be allotted for skills accrued while serving our country. But we shouldn’t just stop there.
Considering the sacrifices many of our soldiers have made in defense of our nation, Congress must act to support those who still wish to put their lives on the line — and businesses who want to hire veterans but who have legitimate concerns about the impact an extended deployment may have on their bottom line.
For many guardsmen and women, months-long tours are no longer the exception; they are becoming the norm. While companies cannot take punitive action against employees because of their military service, some may look at National Guard service as a disincentive to hiring rather than a benefit. In fact, a recent study by the Harvard Business Review found current members of the National Guard are less likely to be considered for interviews than applicants who are not.
Understanding this new reality, Congress should improve upon and expand tax credits for employers who hire a veteran or a member of the National Guard to help defray any costs they may incur when an employee embarks on a tour of duty.
Congress must also expand grants available through the Small Business Administration to veterans starting their own businesses. What D.C. should not be doing is eliminating the Work Opportunity Tax Credit, which directly benefits veterans, as the recent tax reform bill unveiled by House Republicans proposes to do.
I am not the same person that I was before I joined the Army. No veteran ever is. Serving this country was the greatest honor of my life. The men and women I served with overseas did the impossible simply because that is what their country asked of them.
Every soldier would apply that same unyielding dedication, truly unique experience and decision-making skills to any civilian job — because that’s what we have been trained to do. So now it’s up to Washington D.C. to get this done. Let’s start putting our veterans to work. America will be better for it.
Rose is a Democrat running to represent Staten Island and South Brooklyn in Congress.
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