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With jobs still the biggest concern facing communities across the country, investing in our veterans isn’t just the right thing to do; it’s the smart thing to do.

By the time a soldier leaves basic training, the U.S. government has dedicated tens of thousands of dollars to his training and education. During my time in the military, I watched my fellow servicemembers demonstrate qualities that are just as valuable in a boardroom as they are on the battlefield — leadership and management skills, reliability under pressure, high standards for excellence, the list goes on.

So it’s no surprise that CEOs agree: Hiring veterans is good for business.

But when these men and women come home and can’t put their skills to work, it not only makes their transition to civilian life all the more difficult, it’s a sad waste of a tremendous national resource.

Investments in our veterans help strengthen and secure our middle class — the engine that spurs economic growth. Last month, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans fell to 7.3 percent, down from an average of nearly 10 percent in 2012. Those gains reflect both our continuing economic recovery and the Obama administration’s commitment to the men and women who signed up to serve during America’s longest war.

But our work is far from over. Nearly 1 in 5 young veterans (ages 18-24) remain without a job. The unemployment rate for National Guard troops stands at nearly 30 percent.

After World War II, the G.I. Bill helped send nearly 8 million veterans to college, laying the groundwork for the middle-class growth that powered the American economy for the rest of the 20th century. As we think about what more we can do to help both our veterans and our economy, a recent report by the Center for American Progress identifies three programs that the Obama administration and Congress should consider to invest in America’s newest generation of veterans:

*Apprenticeship programs. Apprenticeship programs present a valuable opportunity for veterans to develop their professional skills and industry connections while earning a salary. Apprentices are paid employees who are also enrolled in a structured training program through their employer. While underutilized in the United States, apprenticeships are much more common overseas. In Germany, for example, more than 1.8 million people are enrolled in such programs. Expanding these valuable training programs — which simultaneously provide veterans with credentialed skills, a salary and connections to companies in their industry — could help veterans transfer their skills to a number of industries, including manufacturing — one of the bright spots of our economic recovery.

*Competency-based transcripts. The Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, created by President Barack Obama in 2012, is doing important work to help veterans translate their skills to the civilian sector. Modeled off college transcripts, competency-based transcripts present another tool to ensure that employers understand the value of a servicemember’s military experience. From the time they enter the service, military personnel should receive competency-based transcripts that lay out their skills, training, experience and certifications. This standardized, portable record could then be easily shared with employers as servicemembers prepare to enter the civilian workforce. * G.I. credits. Finally, any educational institution that receives G.I. Bill funds should be required to have a system that recognizes servicemembers’ military training and allows them to opt out or test out of redundant courses. These “G.I. credits” will help ensure veterans are able to make the most of their G.I. benefits. Forcing a former Army medic to take an introductory nursing course is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

The time is now. As the war in Afghanistan comes to a close, 1 million men and women will hang up their uniforms and return to civilian life. The bottom line is simple: Promoting economic mobility and security for these young men and women is a critical component to building a strong, thriving middle class.

Patrick Murphy is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He was the first Iraq War veteran elected to Congress.

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