PHILADELPHIA, DEC. 20, 2011 — As President Obama reaffirms the return of our troops by year-end, state Sen. Anthony H. Williams is leading the charge in Pennsylvania as the General Assembly prepares for the return of the commonwealth’s war veterans.

Williams, whose father was a veteran of the Korean War, on Dec. 8 led a discussion at the103rd Engineers Battalion Armory at Drexel University as a first step toward a coordinated solution to the myriad of challenges facing veterans returning to civilian life. This roundtable was hosted by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, which is charged with identifying core issues affecting our diverse state, and serving as a catalyst to enacting major policy initiatives.

“The good news is that more military personnel are coming home. The not so good news; there is no seamless coordinated transition for them from military to civilian life. I have seen the return of our military veterans and the problems they are facing. The numbers are staggering and scary,” said Williams.

Pennsylvania is the sixth largest state in the nation with nearly one million veterans and more than 56,000 active military, reservists and National Guard members currently serving on U.S. military bases and installations in the state.

Post-Sept. 11 veterans have highly technical training, yet are experiencing record unemployment. The unemployment rate is disproportionately high for young veterans, according to the latest unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. This group of veterans has a national unemployment rate of 12.1 percent, well above the national jobless rate of 9 percent. Specifically, veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) have an unemployment rate of 16.6 percent.

The outlook is even worse for the youngest age group of veterans: Nearly one in three veterans ages 18 to 24 — or 30.4 percent — is unemployed, compared to a 15 percent unemployment rate for non-veterans in that same age group.

Veterans deserve employment opportunities and access to other benefits, yet, as the committee discovered, there is little to no coordination among the veterans’ service provider agencies.

William E. Blackman, a panel member and Family Assistance Center specialist from the Pennsylvania National Guard, stated that it is unacceptable for half of our state’s 11,000 National Guard members who have served overseas since Sept. 11, 2001 to be back home and unemployed.

Driving the discussion, Williams noted that even one unemployed Pennsylvania veteran is unacceptable. While there are financial resources allocated for job training in Pennsylvania, veterans are not getting jobs. It is obvious that the alignment between veterans’ skill sets, the CareerLink process and industry is not working.

That is why Williams has authored legislation that would give businesses tax incentives to hire veterans. Senate Bill 1293 would amend the state tax code to create a tax credit for businesses that hire a person who has served in the armed forces, including reserve components and National Guard, and was honorably discharged.

Williams’ bill is one of several ideas discussed at the roundtable, including a one-stop shop for returning veterans, which would connect all of the veterans’ organizations and services.

“A veterans’ service office should be the first and only office in Pennsylvania for veterans to contact following discharge from active duty. Response to veterans’ needs must be immediate. It cannot come three weeks later or in the form of a pamphlet,” said Williams.

Senate Bill 1293 is one of many bills expected to be introduced during the 2012 legislative cycle responsive to veterans’ needs.

Senate Democratic Policy Committee Chair Lisa Boscola, along with fellow Sens. LeAnna Washington, Mike Stack and Vincent Hughes, affirmed the policy committee’s commitment to standing up for our veterans.

“The dedication and sacrifice made by so many veterans often goes unrecognized. The Pennsylvania Legislature must do everything in its power to assist these brave men and women find jobs and obtain the readjustment services they need for themselves and their families,” said Boscola, whose father was a Marine.

Prior to the discussion, Williams honored Julius Jackson, an Army Air Corps veteran of World War II who is one of the few surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen and the only surviving member from the Philadelphia area.

Williams recognized the importance of honoring veterans who served in all of our foreign wars and conflicts, but stressed that industry must honor our more recent veterans with job opportunities.

“We have to show our appreciation in a tangible and meaningful way. Veterans are extremely bright, disciplined and highly trainable. They are model candidates for this nation’s workforce and job training programs, yet they are struggling to find their place in civilian life,” Williams said.  “The truth is that we as a nation can’t afford to let these talented and dedicated individuals fall through the cracks of unemployment. This panel discussion is just the beginning of our efforts to help our veterans. They served for us. It’s now our turn to serve their needs.”

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