President Barack Obama on Friday proposed tax credits and training programs to help thousands of U.S. service members returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan find jobs in the shaky economy at home.
The president announced his proposals just hours after a new report showed the nationwide unemployment rate is still over 9 percent.
For some military veterans, the economic outlook is even more dismal. The White House said 1 million military veterans are unemployed. Among those who joined the military after the Sept. 11 attacks, the unemployment rate was 13.3 percent as of June.
The president said many of those veterans bring skills from the wars that can be applied in the civilian workforce.
"If you can save a life in Afghanistan, you can save a life in an ambulance in Wyoming. If you can oversee millions of dollars of assets in Iraq, you can help a business balance its books here at home," Obama said during remarks at the Washington Navy Yard, a former shipyard that now houses Navy administrative offices.
Moving beyond debt debate
The president's proposals were part of his efforts to return to a focus on jobs after spending weeks mired in the contentious debt-limit debate.
"My singular focus is the American people. Getting the unemployed back on the job, lifting their wages," he said.
Obama challenged Congress to get to work right after its August recess on legislation to extend for another year an expiring tax break on Social Security payroll taxes, to further extend unemployment insurance and a program for "putting construction workers back to work rebuilding America."
The tax credits Obama proposed for companies that hire veterans would also require congressional approval.
He asked Congress to authorize a "Returning Heroes" credit for 2012-2013 that would give companies that hire unemployed veterans up to a $2,400 tax credit. It would increase to $4,800 if the veteran has been unemployed for six months or more.
Obama also called for an extension of the "Wounded Warriors" tax credit, which gives companies that hire veterans with service-related disabilities a $4,800 credit. If the veteran has been unemployed for six months or more, the credit increases to $9,600.
The administration said the tax credits would cost the government about $120 million.
The president challenged private companies to hire or train 100,000 veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013. The White House said several companies, including Lockheed Martin, Microsoft and Siemans, had already committed to that effort.
The president also announced a joint initiative between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to come up with a "reverse boot camp" program that would help train service members for the transition to the civilian work force as they wind down their time in the military.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Obama at Friday's event, and said the country owed veterans more than yellow ribbons and parades when they come home.
"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," Mullen said.