Commentary: Why it makes sense to hire heroes

President Obama announced in January a plan to begin withdrawing from Afghanistan, saying Afghan forces will take the lead in securing the country while our troops shift to a support role.

Though this shift indicates an end to a seemingly endless conflict, what does it mean for the growing number of men and women returning to civilian life? These new veterans will be coming home to a nation still recovering from a recession, with skills that do not easily translate to civilian qualifications.

Veterans are a unique population of citizens who have put their safety aside to protect and defend the United States. It is because of this sacrifice that Americans should make issues affecting veterans our top priority.

Nationwide, veterans are struggling to find and maintain employment. The problem is reaching a critical level. The House Committee on Veterans Affairs reports that the U.S. is home to nearly 900,000 unemployed veterans.

California veterans seem to have a magnified problem. Though many private organizations are doing great work for veterans throughout the state, California's limited resources means veterans remain a population still much in need.

Lawmakers are trying to help. For example, House Resolution 1941: The Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 is legislation that amends the Wounded Warriors Act to stipulate changes that would improve the employment resources available to veterans.

There has never been a more crucial time to ensure that our nation's veterans have the resources needed to find and maintain employment as civilians. Though no piece of legislation can eliminate a problem completely, legislation increasing funding, manpower and attention can help. The Hiring Heroes Act increases access to job training and extends the Transitional Assistance Program (TAP).

TAP is a program the military has offered to separating service men and women for more than 20 years. It serves to help new veterans transition smoothly into civilian life in many ways, possibly none more important than the assistance it provides in translating skills to civilian job qualifications.

However, the TAP services have been utilized by only a small fraction of people leaving service. The Hiring Heroes Act can help change this. It will require participation in TAP and increase access to local resources like Veterans First Orange County.

In the military, individuals are trained to be goal-oriented and team players, qualities that often result in strong leadership skills. These are skills that can be beneficial for California's economy.

JENNIFER TURNER is enrolled in the USC School of Social Work. She lives in Anaheim.

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