How States Can Serve Veterans in their Communities
As Veterans Day approaches, Americans reflect on how to serve those who have selflessly served this country. With the Pentagon enforcing dramatic force reductions, the best thing state governments can do to help separated veterans is provide them with opportunities for careers in the private sector. Though the veteran unemployment rate currently sits near a record low at 5.3 percent, an additional 59,000 service members will soon be flooding the civilian workforce.
ALEC has led the way in drafting model policies that will reduce barriers to employment for our service members. The organization has proposed a job placement program to place American veterans in Canada’s petroleum industry, removal of draconian occupational licensing laws that effectively bar new entrants to employment, reduction of criminal background checks required for certain jobs, and a Military Family Scholarship Program to provide dependents of veterans to attend the public or private school of their choice. By enacting these policies, state governments across the country can create opportunities for veterans to successfully transition to civilian employment.
In 2013, ALEC passed the Resolution on Partnering with Canada to Create Job Opportunities for Returning Veterans. The initiative, also known as “Helmets to Hardhats,” encourages the U.S. and Canadian governments to collaborate to help veterans land jobs in Alberta, Canada’s oilfields. Careers in this industry pay up to $100,000 annually, providing veterans with an opportunity to apply their hands-on leadership skills in this steady field.
Some of the most significant barriers to employment for all Americans are haphazard occupational licensing requirements. Today, 35 percent of jobs across the country require an occupational license, compared to just 5 percent of such jobs in the 1950s. A University of Minnesota study estimated these laws have prevented the creation of 2.85 million jobs and placed a $203 billion burden on consumers. Worse still, the Institute of Justice concluded these barriers cost jobseekers an average of $200 in licensing fees and up to nine months of training per license. These effects place a particular burden on military veterans and their spouses seeking employment since they are required to recertify their licensing every time the family is assigned to a new duty station.
To remedy this job-destroying regulation, ALEC drafted The Occupational Licensing Relief and Job Creation Model Policy. This model policy guarantees individuals have the right to engage in lawful occupation, free from any substantial burden, unless the government demonstrates it has a compelling interest to protect against immediate public harm and that the occupational license is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling interest.
Veterans with untreated PTSD too often are at risk of going to prison. A 2004 Department of Justice study found one-in-ten prisoners are military veterans. State governments can encourage employers to hire veterans with criminal records by adopting the ALEC model Resolution on Criminal Background Checks. This resolution incentivizes employers not to ask if a job applicant has a criminal background, or to “Ban the Box,” in reference to the criminal history check box on employee applications. Nineteen states already have such laws and President Obama recently announced similar guidelines to be enforced for hiring of federal employees. Target, Walmart and Koch Industries all have voluntarily implemented such measures in their hiring practices. More employers committing to “Ban the Box” will ensure veterans returning from prison are not faced with the double disadvantages of mental health issues and criminal backgrounds to weigh them down in a cycle of poverty and criminal recidivism.
Finally, the ALEC model Military Family Scholarship Program Act would provide the dependents of active duty service members with a voucher to attend the public or private school (kindergarten through high school) of their choice. Similar voucher programs have produced outstanding results for students in 13 states and the District of Columbia. A voucher program specifically-designed for veterans and their children provides freedom of choice to ensure receive the best education options will help counterbalance the difficulty of constant instability from duty station moves.
This Veterans Day, state capitols throughout the country have a duty to evaluate the best methods to serve those who have honorably served the American people. Veterans commit their lives to this country so governments should ensure they have the tools necessary to transition from public service to civilian employment. With these tools, state governments can do their duty to American warriors.