MN veterans program a model for proposed reintegration overhaul

WASHINGTON – The Minnesota National Guard’s Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign is serving as a model for legislation in the Senate that would overhaul jobs training and placement services for veterans when they return home.

The problem: A more than 21 percent unemployment rate for veterans, more than double the unemployment rate nationally, and nearly three times that of Minnesota’s. A bigger problem: That number keeps increasing as more and more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans return home to a weakened economy.

Senate lawmakers this week introduced a sort-of veteran’s employment omnibus bill aimed at reversing that trend, using the supports in the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon campaign as a guiding light for future reintegration programs in states without a massive, major military installation. The support structure aims to be a sort of “Fort Minnesota,” as the Yellow Ribbon folks call it.

“When they signed up to serve, there was no waiting line,” said Amy Klobuchar, an original co-sponsor of the bill. “When they come home to the United States of America and they need health care, they need a job or they need education there shouldn’t be a waiting line either.”

The legislation would overhaul post-deployment reintegration training programs, in an effort to better equip returning veterans for life in the workforce. Things like job search strategy classes that help to translate military accomplishments to a civilian resume, or establishing a Veterans Business Center in the Small Business Administration to help vets start new businesses.

Also included are two smaller Klobuchar bills, one that would allow vets to use their G.I Bill funding for job training and apprenticeships and the other that would fast-track paramedic training requirements for servicemembers with medical training.

The bill’s lead is Patty Murray of Washington, with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska the top Republican. Murray said they hope to move the bill this summer.

Murray said a cost analysis for her bill wasn’t immediately available; as the Congressional Budget Office is due to release it next week.

Klobuchar said continued funding for the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon program isn’t in the new bill, but that her office exploring ways to add it.

“We’re still looking at numbers and trying to get authorization for that in the bill,” Klobuchar told me.

This bill is not the only way that program might secure funding for next year though. Four Minnesota representatives, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Collin Peterson and Tim Walz each requested a $2 million earmark to expand the Yellow Ribbon program in Minnesota.

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