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There are better ways for Congress to help veterans

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Posted: Saturday, July 14, 2012 12:00 am

According to a Lodi News-Sentinel story earlier this week, Congressman Jerry McNerney will hold a July 16 workshop to help veterans access the newly created Veterans Retraining Assistance Program. VRAP will offer eligible, unemployed veterans up to one year of career retraining.

Since more returning veterans settle in California than any other state, it's noble that Rep. McNerney should be part of the efforts to ease the military's transition back to civilian life. But, of course, the task of getting our veterans employed will require more than workshops. On that note, Rep. McNerney has failed to act.

Three months ago, the New York Times provided painful insights into returning soldiers' ordeals. In April, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it plans to hire about 1,600 additional psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other mental health clinicians in an effort to reduce long wait times at medical centers.

The department says it has also established a policy to do mental health evaluations of all veterans not in crisis within 14 days, a goal it says it meets 95 percent of the time. Nevertheless, the disability compensation system faces a growing backlog as about 900,000 veterans await the disposition on their claims.

In his statement Eric K. Shinseki, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, said: "History shows that the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the operational missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have ended. As more veterans return home, we must ensure that all veterans have access to quality mental health care."

Assume the best scenario — the veterans are successfully treated and their claims approved and promptly processed. Then what becomes of them if they can't find jobs?

Even a successful job search can last for 18 months, during which time the most confident applicant can experience periods of self-doubt and depression. For vets, the grind of looking for work could take such a toll that further counseling could be required.

Unfortunately Rep. McNerney, like most of his Democratic colleagues, could have intervened. Last year, House Judiciary Committee passed Chairman Lamar Smith's Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2885) that would have made E-Verify mandatory. E-Verify is the free, online federal program that checks whether new employees are legally authorized to work in the United States.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about 7 million illegal immigrants hold payroll jobs. Smith's legislation would gradually remove them from their jobs and, at the same time, prevent other illegal immigrants from taking future positions that might go to veterans.

Rep. McNerney has not cosponsored Chairman Smith's bill.

In addition, President Obama's June 15 executive order will give work permits to about 1.2 million previously unemployable 16- to 30-year-old illegal immigrants. In 2010, McNerney voted for the DREAM Act legislation that was targeted for that age group. The DREAM Act passed the House, but was defeated in the Senate.

Obama's unilateral decision to artificially flood the employment market with 1.2 million additional workers is not in veterans' — or other unemployed Americans' — best interests

I placed telephone calls and sent emails to Rep. McNerney's office seeking comment. A spokesman said only that the Congressman continues to be proactive on veterans' causes. As for my direct questions regarding the Congressman's failure to co-sponsor the Legal Workforce Act or his opinion of President Obama's decision to grant work permits to illegal immigrants, I received no reply.

Window dressing like workshops or federal programs with fancy names is meaningless to struggling, unemployed Americans. Rep. McNerney isn't alone in his abandonment of American workers. Only 75 House members cosponsored Smith's bill.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pa. Contact Joe at

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