WASHINGTON — With the jobless rate among post-Sept. 11 veterans hovering at 13 percent, President Barack Obama said Friday that he'd urge Congress to give tax breaks to companies that hire veterans.
Speaking at the Washington Navy Yard as the Labor Department reported a promising, if small, boost in jobs in July, Obama said he also was challenging the private sector to hire or train 100,000 post-9/11 veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013.
"We're saying to our veterans, 'You fought for us and now we're fighting for you,' " the president said.
Obama said he'd call for two new tax credits: One would provide an incentive for companies to hire unemployed veterans and the second would double an existing tax credit for hiring long-term unemployed veterans who have service-related disabilities.
Under the "Returning Heroes" tax credit, employers who hire recently unemployed veterans could earn up to $2,400. They could earn up to $4,800 for hiring veterans who'd been unemployed longer than six months.
A new "Wounded Warrior" tax credit would give a break of up to $9,600 to companies that hire veterans with disabilities who've been out of work for more than six months.
According to the White House, there were 1 million unemployed veterans as of June. And the White House notes that as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, more than 1 million are projected to leave the military.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, introduced Obama, noting that some of those who are looking for work served "five and six and even seven tours in combat" and that some suffer from serious wounds "seen and unseen.
"What our troops need when they come home is more than yellow ribbons, parades and an open heart. They need an open hand. And one of the best ways to extend that hand, to truly honor a veteran, is to hire one."
Beyond the tax credits, Obama said he was challenging the private sector to hire more veterans or their spouses as part of first lady Michelle Obama's Joining Forces campaign. He noted that Siemens recently met its goal of hiring 300 and now is aiming to hire 150 more by December. He said that a number of other companies had agreed to boost their efforts.
The president said he also was asking the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to design a "reverse boot camp" of sorts, to prepare soldiers to leave the military, including "how they can translate their military training into an industry-accepted credential."
The nation's jobless rate could be a significant factor in Obama's re-election campaign, and he acknowledged that the economy's growth has been slow.
"We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do to give folks the economic security and opportunity they deserve," he said. "And that begins with connecting Americans looking for work, including our veterans, with employers looking to hire."
The Veterans of Foreign Wars applauded the initiative, pointing to a "national crisis facing unemployed veterans, particularly young veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan."
"Veterans bring a wealth of attributes to the workplace that employers need, but recent unemployment numbers indicate a clear disconnect between our veterans and the employers that could use them," said Richard L. Eubank, the VFW's commander in chief.
(Rob Hotakainen contributed to this report.)
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow McClatchy on Twitter.