The 2011 Hiring Heroes Act aims to expand job skills training for servicemembers in order to get them ready for civilian employment, and streamline federal hiring procedures so veterans can enter government service quickly.
Under the bill, military personnel would be able to begin the employment process before separating from military service, and federal agencies would be allowed to directly appoint servicemembers to civilian positions within 180 days following their discharge. The bill also would direct the Office of Personnel Management to create an employment assistance program to promote recruitment, hiring and training of retiring servicemembers and veterans.
Says Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who sponsored the bill, "For too long at the end of their careers, we pat our veterans on the back for their service and then we push them out into the job market alone. It's time for us to make sure they have a job and the security [it] provides them when they come home."
The bill dovetails with the federal government's existing push to hire veterans by making it easier for them to find and apply for the jobs that match their skill sets, Murray said, noting there are many positions in the Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments appropriate for military personnel. President Obama in November 2009 issued an executive order to increase interagency collaboration on the hiring of veterans, on matching them with job openings and helping them navigate the application process. According to OPM Director John Berry, agencies hired 2,000 additional veterans in 2010 compared with the previous year; 30 percent of all new hires across government were veterans.
The legislation also would expand the reach of the Defense Department's Transition Assistance Program and make participation mandatory for separating service members; create a pilot program to provide civilian work experience for military personnel on terminal leave; ease the translation of military training and experience into civilian licensing requirements; and extend training and rehabilitation benefits for disabled veterans. The provisions would prepare service members for both government and private sector jobs, lawmakers said.
"We have a responsibility to empower them and get them the skills they need to transition," said Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who co-sponsored the legislation.
Veterans' groups praised the proposal, noting it is particularly important in the current economic environment.
"A veteran's successful reintegration into society begins with employment," said Ray Kelley, legislative director of Veterans of Foreign Wars. The legislation "not only improves existing programs, it allows service members to quickly transition into civilian careers and ensures that veterans who continue to struggle to find employment are given greater access to the system that is in place to support them."
According to Murray, the cost of the bill is not yet available. There is no companion legislation in the House.