What Obama Should Have Said About Veterans and Jobs

Returning veterans are some of the best hires employers can bring on board.


Three sentences buried in the middle of the president's speech Thursday night caught my ear:

"Pass this jobs bill, and companies will get extra tax credits if they hire America's veterans. We ask these men and women to leave their careers, leave their families, risk their lives to fight for our country. The last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home."

According to the White House, the president is proposing a Returning Heroes Tax Credit of up to $5,600 "for hiring unemployed veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, and a Wounded Warriors Tax Credit of up to $9,600 for hiring unemployed workers with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months."

[See the top 10 cities to find a job.]

Whether Congress passes the American Jobs Act as a whole remains to be seen; if only parts of it can be passed, this should be one of them. The president should have gone a little further, and explained that there's more than just a tax break in it for employers who hire vets. Returning vets are some of the best hires employers can bring on board. If you're starting or expanding a small business or want to encourage your employees to make innovative, game-changing decisions, here's why you should hire a vet.

Veterans currently own more than 14 percent of businesses in America, according to the Veteran Journal, and there are more than 4 million vets who own small businesses. The success rate for vet-owned businesses is higher than for those owned by non-veterans. That's because veterans make great entrepreneurs.

Nothing's more important to getting our economy moving than to unleash innovative start-up businesses, with the kind of products and services that disrupt markets, create their own demand, and expand quickly. According to the Kauffman Foundation, over the last 30 years, start-up businesses accounted for nearly all net new jobs in the United States. And if you consider startup businesses to be messy and sometimes chaotic places, then a former soldier is your best bet. In some ways, war is the ultimate market disruption, and improvising solutions on the battlefield makes innovation in the workplace look easy.

[See photos of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. ]

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have produced a new kind of soldier, unlike the ones from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, who were much more likely to be on the bottom of a hierarchy of centralized decisionmaking. Because they've had to deal with both insurgent attacks and community building, today's soldiers from Iraq and Aghanistan have a different skill set. In Time magazine's recent cover story, "The New Greatest Generation," Joe Klein credits Army General David Petraeus with changing training to teach soldiers how to make difficult decisions under pressure. "They've had to show incredible flexibility, never knowing whether they're going to be greeted with a handshake or a hand grenade," Petraeus said. "I believe they are our next great generation of leaders."

"The returning veterans are bringing skills that seem to be on the wane in American society, qualities we really need now: crisp decision-making, rigor, optimism, entrepreneurial creativity, a larger sense of purpose and real patriotism," writes Klein. Many of them are jumping back into civilian life as social entrepreneurs and business leaders, rebuilding communities in the United States.

[See photos of the 10th anniversary of 9/11]

"People have the wrong impression of the military," veteran and social entrepreneur Wes Moore said. "It is extremely entrepreneurial. I had more freedom to make decisions there than I do at Citibank. My commander would tell me what needed to be done, and then it was up to me to figure out how to do it." Sounds like a dream employee to me.

  • Read Doug Heye: Obama's Jobs Plan is Just Stimulus Part 2
  • Check out our editorial cartoons on President Obama.
  • Read Rick Newman: What Obama Can and Can't Do to Create Jobs