Guest Column

Job opportunities increase for veterans

By U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman

With the Iraq War over and our involvement in Afghanistan winding down, the military is getting ready to downsize and many more veterans will soon be forced to make the transition to civilian life. 
I joined the Army after my junior year of high school, earned a high school diploma through an Army program, and was accepted at the University of Colorado before I left active duty. Needless to say, attending the University of Colorado as a young, single veteran was a great experience, both academically and socially. 
I was able to cover most of the cost of going to college under the educational benefits that I had earned through my military service. This program was commonly called the G.I. Bill when I went to the University of Colorado and it is now referred to as the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill for our current generation of returning veterans.
No doubt, our military families have already been stressed by the multiple deployments of their service members and they now face more anxiety with the uncertain future of having to leave the military, which for many is the only career that they have ever known.
Many of those who have recently left the military, or are soon to leave, are not interested in using their educational benefits to get a four-year college degree but would much rather have a job where they can better support their families. 
Our veterans are tremendously talented but need help transitioning their military skills to civilian employment. A Marine Corps infantry rifleman serving in Afghanistan will not have the technical skills to transition directly from his military occupational field to a civilian one. However, like so many others who serve or have served our country, they come with leadership skills, teamwork, and a sense of determination and urgency to accomplish whatever task they are given.
My legislation, H.R. 1412, the Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act, will provide incentives for employers to hire our veterans so they can make that transition to a civilian job.
There is also a little known and underutilized program that allows veterans to use their educational benefits to take advantage of job training through apprenticeship programs. Under this program, a veteran’s G.I. Bill benefits can be used to help pay their salaries instead of paying for college. Additionally, the salary is split between a veteran’s G.I. Bill benefits and the employer with the employer picking up more of the cost as the veteran gains experience.
The Veterans Job Opportunity Act will expand the program by requiring that the Department of Veterans Affairs notify all military personnel of the program before they are discharged from active duty, it then further incentivizes private sector employers to hire veterans by increasing the share of the salary that the VA will pay, and it will open up opportunities in the public sector as well by making all agencies of the Federal government participate in the program.
This is a commonsense bill that will benefit not only our returning veterans but also employers who will experience the value of employing a United States veteran.
The Veterans Job Opportunity Act passed the House of Representatives unanimously last year and is now awaiting action in the Senate.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He has 21 years of combined service between the U.S. Army, the Army Reserve, the U.S. Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve.  He represents the 6th Congressional District.