Fontana Discusses Employment for Veterans

Veterans should be welcomed home with open arms from family members, but they also face the hurdle of unemployment, Fontana says.

On average, an estimated 250,000 soldiers leave active military duty every year. Just last week, 33,000 surge troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan in December 2009 were sent home. This drawdown of United States forces is in keeping with the President’s timetable to pull out all conventional combat forces by the end of 2014. While these soldiers should be welcomed home in the coming days with open arms, many will face a new hurdle resulting from the deep recession: unemployment.    

Post 9/11 veterans are facing an economic environment unprecedented to drawdown periods of any previous war. For example, in March, the U.S. Labor Department released numbers that showed the unemployment rate for veterans was 12.1 percent whereas during this same time, the unemployment rate for non-veterans was at 8.9 percent. To put these numbers into perspective, unemployment after World War II—the largest demobilization of the Armed Forces in our history—was four percent. With our state having the fourth largest number of veterans in the country, these statistics demonstrate the employment barriers veterans are facing and the drastic changes that need to take place.

As our economy continues to struggle, what businesses need more now than ever is a sustainable foundation of systems—both in terms of business knowledge and leadership as well as personal discipline. Who better to meet those needs than our military men and women returning home and in need of jobs upon re-entering the civilian workforce? 

While in the military, service men and women undergo rigorous training programs to become experts in a wide-range of skills and concepts that can easily be transferred to a civilian work environment. The skills military members have learned and applied in real-world situations while serving make them ideal candidates to enhance a business’s productivity. Furthermore, ninety percent of military occupations are directly transferable to the private sector. 

One of the hurdles that often stand in a veteran’s way of quick employment is the requirement of certification and/or licensing for certain workforce fields.  Many private sector employers don’t take into account the military training these individuals go through to properly execute their day to day mandated activities and jobs. Instead, these military professionals return home only to find they need to be “retrained” to enter the civilian workforce, which can add additional months or even years before they can become fully employed.

This week, the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee unanimously passed House Bill 2321 (HB 2321) which would require that Pennsylvania licensing agencies and boards consider a veteran’s service, education, training or experience and possibly waive certain requirements due to this experience when issuing licenses and certifications for a civilian job.

This legislation is a common sense type of bill. Not only do many of these veterans already have the necessary training to fulfill these jobs, but often hands on experiences which is proven to be very beneficial. HB 2321 will essentially grant veterans the ability to fill civilian careers faster and no longer require these individuals to have to jump through hoops to attain employment.

The legislation passed the House of Representatives on May 23, by a vote of 197-0. The bill now goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee which I am a member of.

As our economy continues to recover from a recession, we need to look at ways to make employment attainable for all. With that being said, veterans have trained and sacrificed so much for us all to live in a land where we are free.  Veteran unemployment numbers are staggering and I believe this legislation will remove one less hurdle in the way. Pennsylvania should honor military personal by ensuring that they have the assistance they need to rejoin the civilian workforce.

Senator Wayne D. Fontana

42nd Senatorial District


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