Senator McCaskill, the leader of Missouri’s National Guard and Missouri employers are working together to boost employment levels of our guardsmen. McCaskill hosted a roundtable to discuss the number of unemployed civilian soldiers — 12 to 30 percent — and how to reverse that trend.

Coming home can be bitter sweet for military men and women who face unemployment. (Photo taken from Missouri National Guard Facebook page.)

Adjutent General Stephen Danner says it’s not just jobs, it’s training, skills and location. Often those vital components don’t match up, he says. McCaskill agrees, saying it’s especially difficult for those who transition in and out of active duty, but for all military, matching skills with jobs seems to be a big challenge.

The group talked about looking at ways to expand the GI Bill, tax credits for businesses and raising general awareness would help with transitional training for Missouri’s Guard and reservists, as well as working with smaller and mid-sized businesses, which seem to have the biggest hurdles in hiring someone who might later be deployed.

RED TAPE: It is confusing, noted military officials, because there are a lot of different programs. Danner says Missouri has addressed that by combining programs, co-locating everyone in the same location. He also points to Governor Nixon’s “Show Me Heroes” program, which places a guardsman working full-time in the Economic Development Department “to try to mitigate some of the confusing issues and cut through red tape.” He says so far 1,500 Missouri companies have agreed to hire veterans on preferential basis and have hired 400 uniformed men and women through the program. Danner says he’s not aware of any other state that is heading up such a program.

TRAINING: “Training programs for small companies are fine, but some don’t have the time to put them into training programs. Positions need to be filled immediately. Other businesses don’t have the financial resources to provide that training to military civilians.” That’s the lament of business leaders on the call, all of which agree there is a willingness to hire guardsmen and reservists, but making it happen presents challenges. McCaskill agrees, saying, “Not every company is able to let someone leave for weeks at a time.”

Danner says the military can be a tremendous value as a training institution. He says the Army used to have transition programs where you had six weeks on military payroll to transition into civilian jobs. “That’s not there anymore. Also had two-year enlistments instead of four.”

USERRA, IS IT WORKING? The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act protects anyone serving in the armed forces or national guard for taking a military leave of absence from work. It also prohibits discrimination by employers; requiring companies to reemploy or return someone to a similar position upon returning from armed service with seniority as though the person had never left the company; and maintain benefits and health plans during the period of service. 

McCaskill asked military leaders, is it working? What they told her is that the one issue is career advancement, saying “Employers do hold it against guard and reservists in promotions because they do know they can be deployed at any time.” They added that in general hiring, it can also be an issue. “They’re not willing to take on the additional costs because individuals are deployed. Some employers will bend over backwards to make it happen, but there are others who would choose anyone but a guardsmen and reservist.”

THE GI BILL: The group agreed that an increase of awareness for soldiers might help them understand that the GI Bill can be uses for on-the-job training. It’s not just for college. It’s good for six to 24 months training; after 24 months it does have to have an education component. The problem, they said, is that programs that are less than six months do not qualify.

TAX CREDITS: McCaskill says she’s gonig to drill down and see if there are any tax credits or SBA programs for businesses to hire guard or reservists. “Can we tweak that tax credit? I think a lot of small businesses just can’t figure out how to make it work.”

SELF EMPLOYED: The group says those who are self-employed before they are mobilized have the hardest time getting a job after. “Is there anything we can do in Congress to protect those who are self employed?” they asked the Senator.

“It’s true that if you’re self-employed, there’s really no one to pick up the slack while you’re gone,” she says. “We need to look and see if there is anything we can do to lend to their level of support.”

Businesses participating in the roundtable discussion included Ameren Missouri, Mid America Kidney Stone Association, Colt Safety, Enterprise Renta-Car and Express Scripts, all of which have been recognized for supporting military and national security measures.

President Obama has issued a challenge to American businesses to hire 100,000 veterans over the next few months.