EDITORIALS

Helping Our Veterans Work

Posted Aug. 16, 2011, at 5:37 p.m.

Far too many veterans have needed job skills but aren’t being hired because they lack the proper credentials. The Navy runs an innovative program to ensure those about to leave the service have the licenses they’ll need to secure jobs in the civilian sector. It should be expanded and adopted by other military branches.

The Navy Credentialing Opportunities On-Line program, which goes by the acronym Navy COOL, can be an important step in helping sailors transition from the Navy to the civilian work force. Since it began in 2006, 45,000 sailors have gotten the licenses or certifications they need to qualify for civilian jobs. The Navy pays for the program.

Through the program, pharmacists, nuclear submarine technicians and dog handlers have prepared for similar jobs outside the Navy. For example, a medic may perform surgery on the battlefield, but be required to go through an extensive training course to become a civilian paramedic. With the right credentials, the transition could be much quicker.

Kris Thompson, the kennel master at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida, typically would need several years as work on a police force to become a K-9 officer. Because of the Homeland Security and anti-terrorism certificates he’s earned through the COOL program, he can go straight to a private security company when he leaves the Navy in October.

“The companies ask for these certifications, and if you have them, it improves your chances of getting a job,” he told the Associated Press.

Veterans need all the improved chances they can get.

The unemployment rate among Afghanistan and Iraq veterans aged 18 to 24 is 20 percent. It is 17 percent in the civilian population of the same age. Unemployment among all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was 11.5 percent last year, compared to 9 percent for the population as a whole.

As troops return to the U.S. and the wars are scaled back, the problem could get worse.

President Barack Obama has proposed money for tax credits to encourage companies to hire these veterans. This is a help, but ensuring the veterans have the paperwork they need may be more important.

A further boost would come from the Hiring Heroes Act, which would spread the COOL program to the military’s other branches. It would also remove some hurdles to veterans being hired by the federal government and ensure that those about to leave the military received job search training before they left. The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe.

Building on a program that works to better integrate veterans into the work force simply makes sense.

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