No shortage of ways to help veterans

Sen. Al Franken
Guest Columnist

Today is neither Veterans Day nor Memorial Day – the two days each year when all Americans pause to reflect on the service and sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen.

That doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate our service members, our veterans and their families every day. But a smaller and smaller part of the American population serves in our all-volunteer military. And more and more of us grew up in families – or even communities – where almost no one around us wore the uniform, either. It’s increasingly easy to feel disconnected from our military, and often hard to figure out exactly what we can offer the men and women who serve (in addition to our gratitude).

I didn’t serve in the military. But the time I’ve spent around our troops – both on USO tours and in my capacity as a senator – has been a gift and an inspiration. And visiting with veterans and military families around Minnesota always reminds me, as I hope reading this will remind you, that there’s no wrong day (and no shortage of ways) to give back.

When I talk to veterans, the issue I hear about most is unemployment. Without a job, it’s almost impossible to re-integrate into your community and transition into a new phase of your life. And, sadly, the unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans in Minnesota has been much higher than the state average.

That’s why, if you own a business or make hiring decisions, I encourage you to take a chance on a veteran.

We’ve all heard about the “invisible wounds of war.” We’re all aware that the signs of nonphysical injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t always easy to see. And there’s a stigma that sometimes comes with mental health issues – one that can make it harder for veterans to find work.

But these men and women are tremendously talented – not just the world’s finest fighting force but the world’s best drivers, mechanics, engineers and more. They have incredible discipline. They know how to work in teams. And they’ve proved themselves under enormous pressure.

That’s why I worked to pass the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act into law. It creates and expands tax credits for employers who hire veterans, giving them special incentive to hire veterans who have been unemployed for a long time or who are living with service-related disabilities.

Not enough employers know about these tax credits – up to $9,600 per hire.

Meanwhile, this year, the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development did a survey that found that more than 500 of the 2,700 Red Bulls serving in Kuwait would be unemployed when they came home. So the Minnesota National Guard took action, bringing MN DEED officials – as well as representatives from major local employers like Target, Best Buy and US Bank – to Kuwait to meet with our troops, helping them prepare to translate the skills they displayed in the military into civilian employment.

For instance: Some of the folks who had gone over there told me that the troops they met tended to talk about their achievements in terms of what “we” did, not what “I” did. Members  of the military aren’t used to tooting their own horns like civilians do when applying for a job – just one of the cultural differences that can be tough to overcome when veterans return home.

This is the sort of thing that makes me so proud to be a Minnesotan. And it serves as a great example for all employers.

Only a few sign up to serve. And there are only a couple of days on the calendar devoted to honoring them. But employers can give back (and get a tax credit) any day by hiring a veteran.