WASHINGTON – U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.) voted recently to pass legislation that would help increase job opportunities to veterans.
The bipartisan legislation Honoring Investments in Recruiting and Employing American Military Veterans (HIRE Vets) Act is a step forward in helping veterans by encouraging and incentivizing businesses to hire veterans through a recognition program.
“We know veterans also often times don’t get the opportunities they deserve and need,” Jenkins told The West Virginia Record. “This legislation is creating a program that targets and encourages employers to hire vets.
The HIRE Vets Act creates an award program with either a platinum or gold status for businesses who reach benchmarks. The annual awards will be given to businesses based on requirements including the number of veterans employed, equity pay for Guard and Reserve members who are deployed and involvement in community services and charities for veterans.
West Virginia is among the states with the highest percentage of veterans compared to its total population. Nine percent of West Virginians have served in the military with 75 percent of veterans having served during wartime, according to 2014 statistics.
“West Virginia is well-recognized as one of the most patriotic states in the country,” said Jenkins. “West Virginians … have a willingness out of a sense of purpose of stepping up to serve their country. It comes from who we are as a people and one of the things that makes West Virginians so special."
The unemployment rate among veterans in West Virginia sits at 4.9 percent compared to the national veteran unemployment rate of 5.3 percent. Jenkins hopes the HIRE Vets Act will inspire West Virginian business to hire local veterans.
“We know veterans also often times don’t get the opportunities they deserve and need,” said Jenkins. “This legislation is creating a program that targets and encourages employers to hire vets.”
The HIRE Vets Act is a piece of the ongoing conversation surrounding improving services for veterans. Congress passed a law earlier this year that exempted certain veterans from counting towards small businesses’ total employee count for the Affordable Care Act employer mandate. Congress hopes that small business will be motivated to hire more veterans if they are not counted towards the benefits mandate.
While the recent legislation is making progress in helping the hiring of veterans, Jenkins recognizes there’s still work to be done in providing veterans the support they need. Nearly half of West Virginia veterans are over the age of 65, making the need for access to quality care for veterans a priority for the state.
“We need to address the issues of access to [health] care. Long wait times for appointments is simply unacceptable,” said Jenkins. “We need to have a system that our veterans get top quality care. “
The HIRE Vets Act passed with overwhelming support 409-1 and moves to the Senate for a vote. Jenkins indicates that the bill seems to have strong support and is “cautiously optimistic” that it will pass in the Senate.