President Obama on Friday unveiled new initiatives aimed at turning veterans
into firefighters, police officers and entrepreneurs.
The initiatives, which must be approved by Congress, are aimed specifically at post-9/11 service members.
Those veterans have an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent versus 8.7 percent for non-veterans, according to the government's January jobs report.
The announcement was made in Arlington, Va., in a fire station whose members were among the first to respond to the attack at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
Obama said financial incentives would encourage and reward municipal governments to hire veterans. He also called for the creation of a Veterans Jobs Corps and the expansion of entrepreneurship opportunities for veterans.
"We need to make sure that as our troops return from battle, they can find a job when they get home," Obama said. "When these men and women come home, they bring unparalleled skills and experience. .They've saved lives in some of the toughest conditions imaginable. They've managed convoys and moved tons of equipment over dangerous terrain. They've tracked millions of dollars of military assets. They've handled pieces of equipment that are worth tens of millions of dollars. They do incredible work. Nobody is more skilled, more precise, more diligent, more disciplined."
A total of $486 million in grants to hire veterans will be administered through the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services program and the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Staffing For Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grants program, according to the White House.
Preference for those grants will be given to communities that recruit and hire post-9/11 veterans to serve as police officers and firefighters, Obama said.
The announcement could potentially be a boon to departments in Fayetteville, which has a large veteran population.
Police spokesman Gavin MacRoberts estimated that about 40 percent of the city's police force are veterans, but a city spokeswoman said Fayetteville does not track veteran status for its employees.
Fayetteville has more than 350 sworn officers, according to the department's website.
VETERANS JOBS CORPS: The Veterans Jobs Corps, which would cost $1 billion, was introduced in Obama's State of the Union address.
Obama said the corps would connect up to 20,000 veterans with jobs over the next five years that involve rebuilding local communities and national parks.
"They've already risked their lives defending America. They should have the opportunity to rebuild America," he said. "We've got roads and bridges in and around our national parks in need of repair. Let's fix them."
Obama urged Congress to fund projects for the corps. He said the nation should take the money it was spending on the war in Iraq, use half of it to pay down the debt, and the other half to "do some nation-building here at home, to improve the quality of life right here in the United States of America and put our veterans to work."
Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, voiced skepticism of the plan.
He said he wanted the administration to work with Congress on getting businesses to hire more.
"Short-term spending and temporary programs have failed and are not the solution," Miller said.
The third initiative was the increase in entrepreneur training for veterans.
The training will come as part of a Veterans Affairs-Department of Defense task force established last year to improve the career-readiness of veterans. Working with the Small Business Administration, the task force will develop a two-day entrepreneurship program to be included in existing transition programs and offer an in-depth online program.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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