As widespread as unemployment is in our society, it’s even worse for our returning military veterans. While the national unemployment rate for non-veterans in 2011 was slightly above 8 percent, the rate for veterans was over 12 percent. Young veterans had an even higher unemployment rate of 29 percent in 2011, and estimates of unemployment among disabled vets are high as 50 percent. With the continuing drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the unemployment crisis for veterans is likely to get worse.
We owe our veterans better than that. When they return home from combat zones, often after serving multiple tours of duty, the challenges of readjusting to civilian life shouldn’t include struggling to find a job. That’s why, as ranking member of the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Veterans and Military Affairs, I was proud to introduce several new laws designed to give all veterans, and especially disabled vets, a helping hand in finding employment.
I was the lead Senate author of Senate Bill 369, which creates a tax incentive for employers to hire disabled veterans. The new law offers employers who hire an unemployed disabled veteran for a full-time position a $10,000 tax credit over the course of four years. Those employers who hire disabled veterans for a part-time position can receive a tax credit of up to $5,000 over four years. The actual amount of the credit will vary proportionately on the average number of hours the disabled veteran works each week over the course of the year. This credit will help employers meet any additional costs they incur in hiring disabled vets, and will help break down the barriers our disabled veterans face when they seek employment.
The cost of obtaining a professional license can also be a major obstacle to getting a job or starting a business. Senate Bill 338, which I introduced with Sen. Pam Galloway, waives the fees for veterans to obtain a state license for such professions as nurse, surveyor, and others. In order to be qualified for this waiver, the veteran has to be a Wisconsin resident and have been honorably discharged from the U.S. armed forces. This new law will make career advancement easier for veterans, and make Wisconsin an even more veteran-friendly state.
Currently, state agencies can give hiring preference to disabled veterans, but only for non-professional or entry-level positions. However, our disabled veterans come back from the service with all kinds of valuable skills, including advanced managerial and professional experience. If they qualify for professional positions or those above entry level, they should get the same hiring preference we currently give for lower-level positions. Senate Bill 339, which I also introduced along with Sen. Galloway, expands state agency hiring preferences for disabled veterans to all positions in the classified service of the state civil service system. While disabled veterans who are considered for a non-competitive appointment must still be qualified to perform the job, this new law will help give disabled vets an edge in seeking state employment.
I’m pleased that my colleagues in the Legislature passed these important bills, and that Governor Walker signed them into law. They recognized that we have an obligation to our veterans, who made tremendous sacrifices defending our nation. These new laws will help vets make the transition back to civilian life and contribute their valuable skills and talents to Wisconsin's workforce.