WILKES-BARRE – With veterans seated in front of him and a Korean War monument as a backdrop, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey detailed two veteran-related bills he has had a hand in crafting during a speech Thursday on the Luzerne County Courthouse south lawn.
One bill, signed into law by President Barack Obama last month, enhances security and reporting requirements regarding sexual assaults at Veterans Administration facilities nationwide.
The other, introduced earlier this year and now in the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, seeks to combat the high unemployment rate among returning veterans by creating a website to better match their skills and training experience with jobs in the private sector.
State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, who was among a bipartisan group of elected officials who flanked Toomey while he spoke, said the unemployment rate for male veterans ages 18-24 last year was 29 percent. Conversely, the rate was 17.6 percent for males in the same age range who did not serve, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
"As bad as this economy has been for civilians, it's been even worse for our veterans," Boback said.
As Toomey, R-Zionsville, spoke about what he called "a no brainer," he said he was "hopeful" the bill would garner bipartisan support and become law like the VA safety bill did.
The seated audience included about a dozen elderly veterans, many of whom fought in Korea, but not one veteran under the age of 55.
Karla Porter, the vice president of the NEPA Veterans Multicare Alliance, said "all help is good help."
She said there are a lot of veterans out there looking for work and using job search engines but not finding success. She said the poor economy is as much as factor as anything else.
When asked where she thought local, young veterans were Thursday afternoon, since there were none at the Toomey event, Porter was blunt.
"They're in their homes, holed up and depressed and they're not coming out," Porter said.
Toomey and Jim Spagnola, the director of the Luzerne County Veterans Affairs Office, said returning veterans are skilled and trained but are finding a lack of jobs overall, and especially a lack of jobs that match their skill sets.
So Toomey, a member of the bipartisan Senate Veterans Jobs Caucus, sought a way to best match veterans with employers offering jobs with similar skills.
His proposal would set up a one-year pilot program through the U.S. Department of Labor that would streamline the way veterans search online for job opportunities. He said the online program would allow veterans to search based on their military skills and also allow employers to post information about vacancies.
He said that unlike a Monster.com or other job search engines, this one would include more military experience boxes to check to really match training with job requirements.