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Local Groups Push for Veterans’ Rights


January 10, 2009 Veterans for Peace members pr...
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As local veterans groups work to help the growing number of jobless and homeless military service members, political leaders in Washington continue to debate what kind of help to offer.

“It is a good step for veterans who are able to work, but the job plan doesn’t help the disabled,” said Ray Parrish, of the NGO Veterans for Peace.

Parrish said that 70 to 80 percent of vets would not be able to work because they are so disabled they cannot get help. Many need help and therapy before they can work.

“The veterans that need help don’t need jobs; they need access to disability. They try at jobs and they are unsuccessful because of their disabilities. It is a common obstacle not being addressed,” he said.

President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to pass a $447 billion jobs plan that includes a measure that would give tax cuts to businesses that hire veterans.

On a bus tour Wednesday, first lady Michelle Obama revealed that 270 companies agreed to hire 25,000 veterans and veterans’ spouses by 2013. These companies make up the American Logistics Association, which includes Con-Agra Foods, Tyson Foods and advertising firm Team Services, according to news reports. In turn, these ALA companies would be awarded tax cuts ranging from $5,600 to $9,600.

Republicans in the past have refused Obama’s entire jobs plan encompassing local government funding, payroll tax cuts and the potential lengthening of unemployment benefits. When Republicans first opposed his plan, Obama decided to cut it into smaller pieces to force Congress to vote on each sector separately.

The House last week passed a veterans initiative.

The Chicago-area Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital provides health care, social programs and housing for returning homeless veterans. One of its goals has been to “target and end homelessness among veterans,” said Don Donahue, who coordinates housing for the facility.

The hospital offers programs that provide housing for up to two years. From there, a veteran can put 30 percent of his or her income toward rent while the hospital and local public housing authorities pay the difference.

“Ending homelessness is a start; it is another step to get them income,” he said.

The hospital also allows employment agencies into the hospital to help veterans find work.

In 2010, 20.2 million men and 1.8 million women ages 18 and over were veterans.

The unemployment rate for veterans who served in the military since 2001 was 11. 5 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The jobless rate for all veterans was 8.7 percent.

“It’s a good idea,” said Wayne Kumingo, 39, an adjunct faculty member in Columbia College Chicago‘s television department. “It’s helping veterans, which is a good gesture. It’s patriotic.”

As far as the military providing a home for veterans after they’ve left, Kumingo said providing support would “depend on how they’d pay for it, whether its a federal budget or an existing military budget.”

But the associate director of undergraduate admissions at Columbia College Chicago said legislation is not the solution.

“I think it’s incredibly righteous,” said Amy Stewart, 38, associate director of undergraduate admissions at Columbia College Chicago.

“But I don’t think one should go about legislation to solve it,” she said.

Stewart also said even though the act would assist in building the community and the task force, it could be problematic for companies to find the right veterans to employ.

Lauren Kosiara, a sales associate at Books in the City on South State Street in the Loop, said that the tax cuts for businesses that employ veterans is a great idea. “Veterans should have jobs, but it’s hard when we can’t find many for anyone,” she said.


(Elizabeth Noles, Lisa Schulz, and Jennifer Zipser also contributed reporting to this story)

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