Obama Plans to Lift Veteran Hiring in Lead Up to Iraq Troop Withdrawal

Unemployment for veterans stands at 11.7 percent.

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Obama administration announced fresh steps Tuesday to lift the hiring of military veterans, who face higher levels of unemployment than other Americans as thousands more prepare to return home from Iraq.

President Barack Obama, currently touring electorally vital western states to convince voters he is doing everything he can to cut high U.S. unemployment, has repeatedly emphasized measures to aid veterans that resonate with many Americans.

He has pledged to use the executive powers of his office to work around Republicans in Congress, who oppose a $447 billion jobs plan he laid out last month because it raises some taxes.

The latest aid for veterans did not require a presidential executive order and was rather low-key.

The first initiative will encourage community health centers to hire 8,000 veterans over the next three years. The second will improve training opportunities for military medics to become physician assistants. They follow news last week from First Lady Michelle Obama that private firms had pledged to hire thousands more veterans over the next two years.

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"This is an important step, but it is part of an overall plan," Matt Flavin, director of the White House task force on veterans, told reporters.

Unemployment among veterans who have served since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States stands at 235,000, or 11.7 percent, versus a national jobless rate 9.1 percent.

More veterans are expected to enter the labor force after Obama announced last week he was pulling the remaining 40,000 U.S. troops home from Iraq by the end of the year.

Obama is seeking to bypass congressional Republicans to show voters he is serious about spurring hiring and employment, key goals to securing his reelection next year.

On Monday in Las Vegas, where the housing market collapse hit hardest, Obama took steps to help homeowners who owe more on their homes than they are worth. On Wednesday, in the swing state of Colorado, he will highlight measures to help students better manage their student loan debt when they graduate.

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Tuesday's action to aid veterans was not done through an executive order. Rather, it took the form of a challenge from the Obama administration to healthcare centers to lift veteran hiring and report back on how many are on the payroll.

Republicans complain Obama's western tour is naked election campaigning that shows that the Democratic president is not serious about working with them to lift economic growth and hiring.