Story by Amaani Lyle, American Forces Press Service
First Lady Michelle Obama joined Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley at the State House in Annapolis on April 17, 2013, as he signed into law the Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013.
The Defense Department collaborated in development of Maryland’s comprehensive bill, designed to streamline credentialing and licensing procedures for service members, veterans and their spouses.
“We have asked them to risk their lives in combat, manage dozens of peers, operate complicated machinery, oversee millions of dollars of assets and save lives on the battlefield,” Obama said. “And then, when they come home, we’re also asking them to repeat months of training for skills they’ve already mastered. So we have to ask ourselves: how does this make sense?”
The first lady said enacting the bill represents more than merely “eliminating a few bureaucratic headaches” for veterans and their spouses.
“This is about improving the financial security for thousands of military families,” Obama said. “It’s about giving veterans and their spouses an opportunity to build their careers and create a better future for their children.”
As part of their Joining Forces initiative, in February, the first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, addressed the National Governor’s Association as part of a call to action to bring millions of veterans into the civilian workforce.
“With the Iraq war over [and] the war in Afghanistan winding down, more than a million service members are going to be hanging up their uniforms and transitioning back to civilian life,” Obama said. “And that comes on top of the hundreds of thousands of veterans and military spouses already out there looking for work.”
While the first lady noted much progress in veterans’ employment over the past few years, she acknowledged that there is still more work to do. As of March 2013, roughly 783,000 veterans were unemployed and looking for work, including 207,000 post-9/11 veterans.
“We need more businesses to make big, bold commitments to hire and train our veterans and military spouses,” Obama said. “We need more hospitals … colleges and employers from every sector to recognize our veterans’ and military spouses’ unique skills and experiences and give them a fair shot at a job.”
Prior to the bill-signing, Obama visited the U.S. Naval Academy, where she ate lunch with midshipmen and met with a number of health care professionals who have served the country for years and mastered highly technical, high-demand skills.
Introducing the first lady at the State House was 23-year Navy veteran and former Senior Chief Petty Officer Andrew Hite, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while on active duty. Hite said he experienced anxiety about pursuing a degree.
“Even though I served this country for more than two decades as a radar tech, an avionics electronics technician and an avionics instructor, I was unable to receive even a single college credit with all of my military experience and numerous formal training courses I completed on active duty,” Hite said. “Legislation that’s being signed today will ensure the well-deserved recognition of our country’s veterans’ efforts of service and acknowledge their military experience and their formal training received while serving our country.”
The legislation, Hite emphasized, will remove the barrier of time.
“It will help shorten the time required to complete the desired degree by allowing credit for the often-expensive knowledge [veterans] have gained during their military service,” Hite added.
Maryland joins a growing list of states that have taken legislative or executive action to help service members, veterans and their spouses get the credentials they need to successfully transition to the civilian labor market.
“Your bill here in Maryland is one of the best bills we have seen in the entire country,” Obama said. “You’re helping our veterans obtain professional credentials … earn college credit … and making it easier for military spouses to continue their careers as they transfer to your state.”
O’Malley also addressed the plight of veterans before signing the bill.
“These individuals should never come home, after overcoming all the barriers they have for us, and face barriers to employment, barriers to licensing, barriers that prevent them from keeping a roof over their children’s heads and providing them with a loving home with economic security and dignity.”