Declaring 2012 as the Year of the Veteran, Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill in Brookfield Wednesday to ensure benefits to public employees who are injured or killed while deployed on active duty.
With Wisconsin's unemployment rate at 7.1 percent, and the unemployment rate for Wisconsin veterans estimated as between 13 and 15 percent, Walker said his administration will focus on connecting veterans with jobs.
"To me it is absolutely unacceptable to think that any man or woman who serves our country, who is deployed in places like Iraq or Afghanistan in particular as of late, would come back to our state and our communities and not be able to find work," Walker said as he greeted dozens of local veterans at the American Legion Post 449 in Brookfield.
As part of the "Year of the Veteran," which falls on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, state agencies like the Department of Workforce Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs will organize job fairs and recognition events. The Year of the Veteran website provides resources for education, training, licensing and job searching.
"Not only is it a moral imperative for employers to consider our veterans; we think it’s an economic benefit," Walker said. "We’re trying to make the connection to our employers in the state, these are exactly the kind of men and women you want working for your company."
One veteran in the audience, Brian Saiia, who was deployed twice to Iraq in 2003 and 2010, said initiatives that help returning veterans also give soldiers in active duty some peace of mind. Saiia was already working for General Electric when he was deployed, and he said he was grateful to be able to return to a job there as a mechanical designer.
“Any support that we can get helps us focus on our jobs overseas, and not worry about what’s going to happen when we come home,” Saiia said.
As the first official step for the Year of the Veteran initiative, Walker signed into law Senate Bill 413 Wednesday, which he said codifies parts of the federal HEART Act into law.
With bipartisan support, the law asserts that any public employees called into service, who die on duty, will be considered public employees upon their death so their survivors may receive benefits from the Wisconsin Retirement System. The law also gives service credit to public employees who are injured in the line of duty and cannot return to work, which Walker said would make it easier to qualify for disability benefits.
"In both cases, it’s ensuring they don’t somehow get penalized for being deployed as part of service to their country," Walker said.