Walz, veterans talk economy

Published 8:25 am Friday, February 25, 2011

Local  veterans weren’t shy about their concerns when they spoke with U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., Thursday afternoon at the Austin VFW.

Many of them agreed they have been put in positions that makes their lives economically challenged.

Congressman Tim Walz gets animated during a moment he was talking about veterans being foreclosed on during a town meeting Thursday afternoon at the Austin VFW. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Perhaps one of the biggest conundrums facing veterans is furthering their careers when they return from service. Walz said Minnesota’s returning veterans have an unemployment rate three times higher than the national average. Several vets spoke about applying for jobs but getting nudged out by applicants who were free of any military ties.

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Although the specifics can’t be pinpointed, veterans cited reasons such as disabilities, post traumatic stress and a generally negative attitude toward former military personnel.

Walz said part of the problem comes from companies that ignore credentials veterans gained while in service. He and others agree it’s unfair for veterans to return from service and have to jump through hoops to get jobs they may be qualified for. Employers in law enforcement, medical and technical fields often overlook many veterans who have qualifications in those fields from their military experience.

But Walz sympathizes with many of Minnesota’s employers and said he has faith in them.

“Some of our employers are shouldering a heck of a burden,” Walz said. “They’re hiring a lot of national guard troops who they know are going to deploy, and they end up losing part of their work force, having to bring more people in and train them.”

To overcome some of the obstacles, Walz is proposing a $4,000 tax break for employers who may be weary of hiring veterans.

“This is not affirmative action,” Walz said. “What we’re saying is: All things equal, the veteran gets the nod.”

Another issue, which Walz is very upset about, is banks foreclosing homes on veterans.

Walz has recently questioned JP Morgan. It wrongfully foreclosed homes on deployed servicemen and violated the Servicemembers Relief Act, which offers some basic freedoms from financial obligations while deployed.

Other problems included many veterans waiting for their disability claims, colleges not offering significant credits for related military experience, inconveniences for veterans to obtain medications and politicians wondering about wasteful spending within the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Walz said this is one of the few times an updated veterans bill has progressed on schedule, and it is one of his top priorities.

“If you can’t get anything else right in Washington, get it right for the veterans. … We made the commitment on this veterans issue that this better transcend politics.”

Walz will take the input from Thursday’s round-table discussion along with an updated budget proposal for veterans and present it in Washington D.C. next week.