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Senate starts year with vets employment bill

Jan. 23, 2013 - 11:52AM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 23, 2013 - 11:52AM  |  
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Helping veterans find jobs is one of the top legislative priorities for Senate Democrats.

One of the first 10 bills introduced in the 113th Congress is a measure that seeks to get more veterans hired for civil service jobs; provide federal grants to encourage employers to hire veterans as first responders; expand small-business loans; and strengthen employment and reemployment rights.

It also extends for two more years the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP, that provides up to one year of GI Bill benefits to certain unemployed veterans so they can learn a new marketable skill.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman and cosponsor of the bill, said his panel "will be looking very seriously at how to improve veterans' employment and training programs."

The bill's chief sponsor is Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the Senate majority leader.

Many of the ideas in it are neither new nor created by Democrats. For example, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman and the chief architect of VRAP, has also talked about extending the life of the program, which so far has helped about 90,000 veterans learn a new skill.

Miller said in December he wanted to see the program's first-year results before proposing an extension. The Senate, however, has moved ahead to open the program to another 100,000 people, with 50,000 slots to open in 2014 and another 50,000 in 2015.

The Reid bill also requires a single federal website to give veterans information on all federal programs involving employment, unemployment and job training.

The bill also:

Provides $250,000 to be used for grants to hire veterans as law enforcement officers and for priority hiring for federal law enforcement jobs.

Requires every federal agency to consider giving preferential treatment to federal contractors who have workforces made up of at least 5 percent veterans. This would apply to all contracts valued at $25 million or greater.

Strengthens federal enforcement of employment and reemployment rights for veterans, including more oversight to determine when employers have a pattern of resisting full compliance with the law. Repeat violators would be barred from receiving federal contracts.

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