The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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March 24, 2013

Measure would aid vets: Businesses given hiring incentive

HARRISBURG — As the adjutant general and quartermaster for the Pennsylvania VFW, John Getz is one of the people desperate veterans call for help when they are at their wits’ end.

Getz gets called all the time.

“I get a couple calls a week, and it seems to be accelerating,” he said. “It certainly isn’t getting better.”

For that reason, Getz welcomed news last week that the state House of Representatives had unanimously passed legislation that would provide a $4,000 tax credit to any small business that hires a veteran. It is just the latest of several initiatives that have been put in place over the years as the country has struggled to find the best method of helping young people transition from military service into careers.

But with more young veterans leaving service, Pennsylvania needs to act to augment the efforts of the federal government, said Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, who authored the tax credit legislation.

Ken Hulling, a local veterans employment representative at the Harrisburg CareerLink office, has noticed an uptick in requests for help, too. He had been getting about 20 new requests for help a month, but lately it’s been more like 30 to 40, he said. There are 66 CareerLink offices run by the Department of Labor and Industry across Pennsylvania, and nearly half of them have people on staff, like Hulling, veterans who understand the challenges facing other veterans, said Sara Goulet, a Labor and Industry spokeswoman.

The veterans representatives at the unemployment office will help vets refine their resumes and help them identify suitable jobs.

The local veterans representatives are funded by a grant provided by the federal Department of Labor. The job coaches for veterans program was created at the end of the first Gulf War in the 1990s.

In Pennsylvania, the 6.7 percent unemployment rate for veterans generally is below the statewide unemployment rate of 8.1 percent for all residents.

The situation for post-9/11 veterans is far different.

“Veterans returning from Afghanistan, as a group, face an unemployment rate twice the state average, as well as wounds caused by IED explosives,” Barbin said. “After the sacrifices made by them and their families, it is our duty to honor their sacrifice by getting these men and women back into the workforce first.

Barbin’s legislation would create a $50 million tax credit, enough tax forgiveness to allow businesses to hire 12,000 workers.

There are about 35,000 unemployed veterans in Pennsylvania, and Barbin said that as more veterans return from Afghanistan, the situation could get worse.

That’s why he felt it was important to move now to create a tax credit to encourage businesses to hire veterans.

“The economy is getting better, so people are going to be hiring,” Barbin said.

To make the tax credit program more attractive to small businesses, the bill included language that would allow the tax credit to be sold if the business does not have enough tax liability to use it, he said.

“One of the things the vets have is discipline to work. They know what they have to do. All those things are great work skills.”

One of the challenges is that veterans may not always know how to translate their experience into terms that make them marketable to people hiring, said Hulling.

Getz said that in addition to the economy, which makes it difficult for anyone to find work, there may be other biases at play. For one, he wonders if employers are passing on veterans out of concern about having to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There are going to be more veterans living on the streets,” Getz said.

Hulling said that when he deals with employers who have had hired veterans in the past, they typically say their prior experiences have been positive.

The frustration of his job is that the pace of hiring has simply not always kept pace with the demand for work, he said. In a recent case, he organized a job fair for a local business and 100 would-be workers showed up.

Afterward, the local manager, who had requested the job fair, said that the company had postponed hiring so none of the candidates got jobs.

In other cases, some of the biggest impediments to getting jobs for vets are that they have run afoul of the law and employers refuse to hire them, Hulling said.

“That rigidness in treating everyone the same, without looking at the individual, is a challenge,” Hulling said.

“The larger the company, the more rigid they tend to be.”

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