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Remarks by the President on the Administration’s Work to Prepare our Nation’s Veterans for the Workforce
Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.
11:20 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, everybody. Good morning. I’m glad somebody told me that was the last one because I had lost count. (Laughter.)
It is great to be here at the Navy Yard. And first of all, I want to thank Admiral Mullen for being here and for his four decades of extraordinary service to this country. And I want to thank him for saying that for an old guy I look okay. (Laughter.) I appreciate that.
This may be one of the oldest shipyards in the United States, but today it’s used to develop some of the most advanced technology in the military. Although I hear your engineers are still working on a solution to the traffic when the Nationals are playing. (Laughter.) That’s not ready yet.
Let me start by saying a few words about our economy. There is no doubt this has been a tumultuous year. We’ve weathered the Arab Spring’s effect on oil and gas prices, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami’s effect on supply chains, the extraordinary economic uncertainty in Europe. And recently, markets around the globe have taken a bumpy ride.
My concern right now — my singular focus — is the American people. Getting the unemployed back on the job, lifting their wages. Rebuilding that sense of security the middle class has felt slipping away for years. And helping them recover fully, as families and as communities, from the worst recession that any of us have ever seen.
Today, we know that our economy created 154,000 new private sector jobs in July. And that’s the strongest pace since April. The unemployment rate went down, not up. But while this marks the 17th month in a row of job growth in the private sector –nearly 2.5 million new private sector jobs in all — we have to create more jobs than that each month to make up for the more than 8 million jobs that the recession claimed. We need to create a self-sustaining cycle where people are spending, and companies are hiring, and our economy is growing. And we’ve known that will take some time.
But what I want the American people and our partners around the world to know is this: We are going to get through this. Things will get better. And we’re going to get there together.
The bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction was important in terms of putting us on sounder fiscal footing going forward. But let’s be honest: The process was divisive. It was delayed. And if we want our businesses to have the confidence they need to get cash off the sidelines and invest and hire, we’ve got to do better than that. We’ve got to be able to work together to grow the economy, right now, and strengthen our long-term finances. That’s what the American people expect of us –- leaders that can put aside our differences to meet our challenges.
So when Congress gets back in September, I want to move quickly on things that will help the economy create jobs right now –- extending the payroll tax credit to put $1,000 in the pocket of the average worker, extending unemployment insurance to help people get back on their feet, putting construction workers back to work rebuilding America. Those are all steps that we can take right now that will make a difference. And there’s no contradiction between us taking some steps to put people to work right now and getting our long-term fiscal house in order. In fact, the more we grow, the easier it will be to reduce our deficits.
Now, both parties share power. Both parties share responsibility for our progress. Moving our economy and our country forward is not a Democratic or a Republican responsibility; it is — it’s not a public or a private responsibility. It is the responsibility of all Americans. It’s in our nature to do the tough things when necessary; to do the right things when called. And that’s the spirit that Washington needs right now.
It’s also the kind of spirit found in the men and women who proudly serve in our country’s uniform, and it’s a spirit that endures long after they take those uniforms off. Today’s veterans are Americans who have done their duty. They’ve fought our wars with valor, from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq to the mountains of Afghanistan. And they include the members of today’s military, the 9/11 generation — some of whom are here today — who volunteered to serve at a time of war knowing they would be sent into harm’s way.
To these men and women, I want to say that all of you have served our country with honor. Over the last decade, you’ve performed heroically and done everything we have asked of you in some of the most dangerous places on the planet. Your generation has earned a special place in American history.
Today, nearly 3 million extraordinary service members like you have completed their service and made the transition back to civilian life. They’ve taken their leadership experience, their mastery of cutting-edge technologies, their ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and they’ve become leaders here at home. Just think about how many veterans have led their comrades on life-and-death missions by the time they were 25 years old. That’s the kind of responsibility and experience that any business in America should want to take advantage of.
These veterans are already making an impact, making companies and communities stronger. But for every success story, there are also stories of veterans who come home and struggle to find a job worthy of their experience and worthy of their talent.
Veterans like Nick Colgin. When Nick was in Afghanistan, he served as a combat medic with the 82nd Airborne. Over the course of his deployment, Nick saved the life of a French soldier who was shot in the head and helped 42 people escape from a flooding river. He earned a Bronze Star for his actions. But when Nick got back home to Wyoming, he couldn’t get a job as a first responder. So he ended up having to take classes through the Post-9/11 GI Bill, classes he easily could have taught, just so he could qualify for the same duties at home that he was doing every single day in Afghanistan.
They’re veterans like Maria Canales. She was a financial specialist in the Army, helping provide financial support for her unit in Iraq. And when she got home, she finished earning her degree in business management. But even with her education and her experience in the Army, Maria still couldn’t find a steady, working job in accounting or finance. That isn’t right, and it doesn’t make any sense — not for our veterans, not for the strength of our country.
If you can save a life in Afghanistan, you can save a life in an ambulance in Wyoming. If you can oversee millions of dollars in assets in Iraq, you can help a business balance its books here at home. Our incredible servicemen and women need to know that America values them not simply for what they can do in uniform, but for what they can do when they come home. We need them to keep making America stronger.
Our companies need skilled workers like our veterans to grow, and there’s no reason why we can’t connect the two. And keeping our commitments to our veterans has been one of my top priorities as Commander-in-Chief, and that includes helping them make the transition back to civilian life.
That’s why we’re fully funding the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which is helping more than 500,000 veterans and their family members pursue a college education. That’s why we supported extending the bill to include non-college degrees and on-the-job and apprenticeship training. That’s why I directed the federal government to be a model employer and hire more veterans, including more than 100,000 in the past year and a half alone.
So today, we’re taking it a step further.
First, we need to do more to make the transition from military to civilian life easier for our veterans. That’s why I’m directing the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to design what we’re calling a “reverse boot camp.” The problem is that right now, we spend months preparing our men and women for life in the military, but we spend much less time preparing them for life after they get out. So we’ll devote more time on the back end to help our veterans learn about everything from benefits to how they can translate their military training into an industry-accepted credential. In addition, we’ll make it easier for veterans to go to their local OneStop career center and get help pursuing a career that fits them best.
These steps will help bridge part of the gap between veterans looking for work and companies looking to hire. But that’s only part of the equation. The other half is about encouraging companies to do their part. That’s why I’m proposing a new Returning Heroes Tax Credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans. And I’m proposing an increase in the existing tax credit for companies who hire unemployed veterans with a disability, who still have so much to offer our country.
And finally, we’re challenging the private sector to hire or train 100,000 unemployed post-9/11 veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013. This builds on commitments that many companies have already made as part of the Joining Forces campaign championed by my wife Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden. Siemens, for example, recently met their goal of hiring 300 veterans, so they’re aiming to hire 150 more by December. Microsoft is helping more than 10,000 veterans get IT certified over the next two years. And today, groups from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Accenture to Lockheed Martin have all agreed to do their part to help veterans get back in the workforce.
The bottom line is this. We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to give folks the economic security and opportunity they deserve. And that begins with connecting Americans looking for work, including our veterans, with employers looking to hire.
Over the last few years, another generation of young veterans has learned that the challenges don’t end in Kandahar or Baghdad. They continue right here at home. Today, we’re saying to our veterans, you fought for us, and now we’re fighting for you — for the jobs and opportunities that you need to keep your families strong and to keep America competitive in the 21st century. And at a time when there is so much work to be done in this country, we need everyone’s help to do it.
So thank you, God bless you, God bless all our services, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
END 11:32 A.M. EDT