The VOW to Hire Heroes Act was passed in November 2011 as a nationwide effort to better assist servicemen and women in obtaining jobs after discharge. While the law is fairly new, it's unfortunate that so many organizations and people in the community are unaware of its benefits.
The lack of knowledge about this policy and the programs it creates does a disservice to those who've sacrificed so much to serve our country. When they come home it is our turn to do anything we can to help them adjust to civilian life.
One of the best aspects of this law is the expanded Work Opportunity Tax Credit for business owners that rewards them with a tax credit for hiring more veterans and disabled veterans. The program was extended to Jan. 1, 2014, and was also made available to tax-exempt organizations such as nonprofit agencies. There is no reason why any employer in the Jackson County area should not know about this tax credit opportunity.
Another challenge for a veteran transitioning home to a civilian job is that many are qualified and able to work, but do not have the proper licensing or state licensing and requirements for the job, so they end up unemployed longer periods because they have to wait for paperwork to be completed or must jump through various employment hoops. The new law has made it possible to bypass some of these requirements.
A representative of the Disabled Veteran's Outreach Program in Medford told me that veterans in Jackson County whose job in the military was truck driving and are now looking to obtain a commercial driver's license have the opportunity to get their CDL much faster if they can prove they are qualified. The law was passed in 2011, but as of March 2013 this is the only occupation to have been made more transitional to veterans locally.
Our state is now working on making other occupations such as paramedic more easily obtainable by veteran combat medics. It seems ridiculous that someone who has saved a life in the middle of a war zone has to wait on unemployment for so long to receive a job as a civilian paramedic because of paperwork.
When our community becomes knowledgeable we also become empowered. We can push local government to make more of these jobs available instead of only one or two jobs made more accessible for veterans two years after the law was passed.
The Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City has recently implemented a peer-to-peer program. This allows veterans to work under a social worker and essentially learn how to do what a social worker does. Once trained, they are sent out to help other veterans with a variety of services, but they also have the time to do things that many overworked social workers cannot, such as attend an Alcoholic's Anonymous meeting with a veteran or conduct a home visit on the spur of the moment. In time, this program should help ease the workload on social workers, but also decrease the relapse rate for veterans and the revolving door created by returning for services.
Laws are not made just for politicians and government officials. Everyone in our community has access to learning about current policy or policy waiting to be implemented. Those specifically in helping roles have no excuse for not knowing the policies that dictate their clients and their job.
If we can come together as a community and learn how to better help our veterans, we can transform the assistance available and make it more effective as well. It helps not only those who served our country, it helps our community as a whole. This is not just an unemployment issue; it is about lifting up our servicemen and women, giving back to them a sense of power and belonging, preventing relapse, encouraging growth and advocacy in our community. Change is possible. There are resources out there waiting to be tapped; it is our responsibility to know about them and take action.
When I conducted a resource inventory of the Jackson County area it appeared many did not know about these services. There was a huge difference between one conversation I had with an individual who was very aware of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act and what it did, and another who knew almost nothing about the act. Both were in positions where their objective was to help veterans gain employment.
Call the Disabled Veteran's Outreach Program, the Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, and other veterans agencies and ask about current policy and programs, learn about your rights as a veteran and what the state of Oregon is doing to increase veteran employment.
Lisa Papa is pursuing a master's degree in social work through the University of Southern California's Virtual Academic Program. She lives in Medford and works at Hearts With A Mission youth shelter.