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New 'reverse boot camp' to prepare departing troops for civilian life

UPDATED AUG. 8, 12:09 P.M.

WASHINGTON — Military officials will develop a “reverse boot camp,” with the goal of better preparing servicemembers who are leaving the military for civilian jobs or college classes. The program is part of a host of new initiatives announced by President Barack Obama on Friday to reduce unemployment among veterans.

During a speech at the Washington Navy Yard, Obama lamented that too many veterans have struggled to find work upon returning to civilian life. He told of Army medic Nick Colgin, who saved the life of a French soldier who was shot in the head in Afghanistan. But back home in Wyoming, Coglin had to take classes he could have easily taught just to get a job as a first responder when he got back home.

"That isn't right and it doesn't make any sense," Obama said. "If you can save a life in Afghanistan, you can save a life in an ambulance in Wyoming."

Obama is proposing tax cuts for companies that hire young veterans and a public challenge to civilian companies to hire 100,000 former servicemembers or their spouses by the end of 2013.

According to Department of Labor statistics, the unemployment rate for post-Sept. 11 veterans in July hit 12.4 percent, well above the national rate of 9.1 percent. A senior White House official called the figures unacceptable, and said that “those veterans who have sacrificed for their country ... deserve all the support we can give them.”

Veterans advocates have been critical of the military’s Transition Assistance Program in recent years, saying the effort doesn’t prepare troops enough for challenges they’ll face navigating job interviews, university classrooms and Veterans Affairs facilities.

The new “reverse boot camp” will be an extended transition period for servicemembers leaving the military. Officials said details of the program will be released later this year, based on recommendations from a task force of planners from the Defense Department, the VA, and the White House economic team.

The corporate tax breaks, which will require congressional approval, would give business owners between $2,400 and $9,600 per new employee, based on the veteran’s disability status and how long they’ve been looking for a job.

Administration officials said they expect the package to provide about 25,000 jobs for veterans and cost about $120 million, “but we hope it will cost more, because that will mean more jobs.”

Obama has also directed Department of Labor officials to establish new enhanced career development and job search service programs geared toward transitioning veterans. Other agencies will be tasked with finding additional opportunities to help troops get into the civilian job market.

Congress is already considering a pair of veterans employment bills, focused on creating business incentives for hiring veterans and easing certification restrictions on troops pursuing post-military careers.

White House officials said they’d focus on a number of new job-creation initiatives in coming months following the recent debt-limit debate, where lawmakers agreed to cut $2.1 trillion in federal spending during the next decade. At least $350 billion of that will come from defense accounts.

Stars and Stripes reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this story.

shanel@stripes.com

Twitter: @LeoShane

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