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Today, we have a distinguished guest at Notes from a Veteran to share her thoughts about Memorial Day: Senator Patty Murray from Washington state. Senator Murray was the first woman elected to represent Washington state in the U.S. Senate in 1992 and is currently Washington’s senior Senator. The daughter of a disabled World War II veteran, she worked in Seattle’s VA hospital and later became the first woman to serve on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. In 2011, Senator Murray was named the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee; again, she is the first woman to hold this position. Senator Murray is recognized nationally as a leading voice in Congress for the rights of veterans.
Memorial Day is a day to honor those American heroes who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. It is because of their sacrifice that we can safely enjoy the freedoms our great country offers. It is because of their unmatched commitment that America can remain a beacon for democracy and freedom throughout the world.
This is a day of remembrance, but also a day for reflection. When our brave men and women volunteered to protect our nation, we promised them that we would take care of them and their families when they return home. On this Memorial Day, we need to ask ourselves, are we doing enough for our nation’s veterans?
Ensuring that our veterans can find employment when they come home is an area where we could do more. For too long, we have been investing billions of dollars training our young men and women to protect our nation, only to ignore them when they come home. For too long, we have patted them on the back and pushed them into the job market with no support. This is simply unacceptable, and does not meet the promise we made to our servicemembers.
Our hands-off approach has left us with an unemployment rate of over 27% among young veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. That is over one in five of our nation’s heroes who can’t find a job to support their family and don’t have an income that provides the stability that is so critical to their transition home. That’s why earlier this month I introduced the bipartisan Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, which was cosponsored by 17 senators. This legislation will rethink the way we support our servicemembers when they return home and are looking for employment.
I introduced this critical legislation because I’ve heard first-hand from the veterans that we’ve failed to provide better job support for. I’ve had veterans tell me that they no longer write that they’re a veteran on their resume because they fear the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war, and I’ve heard from medics who return home from treating battlefield wounds who can’t get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance.
These stories are as heartbreaking as they are frustrating. But more than anything they’re a reminder that we have to act now.
The bill that was introduced this month allows our servicemembers to capitalize on their service.
For the first time, it would require broad job skills training for every service member as they leave the military as part of the military’s Transition Assistance Program. Today, nearly one-third of those leaving the Army don’t get this training.
This bill will also require the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable into the civilian sector, and will work to make it simpler to get the licenses and certification our veterans need.
All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work.
And all of them come at a pivotal time for our economic recovery and our veterans.
I grew up with the Vietnam War, and I have dedicated much of my Senate career to helping to care for the veterans we left behind at that time. The mistakes we made then have cost our nation and our veterans dearly. Today we risk repeating those mistakes.
We can’t let that happen. Our nation’s veterans are disciplined, team players who have proven they can deliver under pressure like no one else.
It’s time for us to deliver for them.