The Senate has approved just in time for Veterans Day a series of tax credits designed to make it easier for veterans to find jobs.
Some 240,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are out of work. The Senate bill would provide tax breaks of up to $9,600 to private employers who hire them.
The tax credits are the first sliver of President Obama's $447 billion jobs package to actually win bipartisan approval in the Senate. Obama says service members who fought for their country shouldn't have to fight for jobs when they come home.
"If you can oversee millions of dollars of assets in Iraq, you can help a business balance its books here at home," he said during a visit to a Virginia military base last month.
'The Least We Could Do'
Obama might have been talking about Maria Canales. The former Army staff sergeant was a finance management specialist in Iraq, where she served as a kind of war zone ATM for the troops.
"We would go on missions to bring soldiers money in cash," Canales said. "If they wanted to send extra money home, we would have check-cashing services there as well."
After Canales left the Army in 2007, she struggled for years to find permanent work, finally landing a job with an insurance company just a few weeks ago. Nearly 1 in 8 veterans who left the service in the past decade is unemployed — a higher jobless rate than the national average. Canales says that with tens of thousands of additional troops set to come home to a tough job market, more help is needed.
"Some guys and gals have been deployed well over four or five times," she said. "That kind of price is very high. And the least we could do is give them peace of mind when they come home."
Surveys by the Pew Research Center found veterans are generally more critical of Obama's role as commander in chief than is the general public. But Obama scores higher with recent veterans — the troops he calls "the 9/11 generation."
"Already your generation has earned a special place in America's history," he told troops at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia last month. "For that you've got a grateful nation."
The nation has been quick to tell veterans how grateful it is. Nine in 10 veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan told Pew researchers someone has thanked them for their service. At the same time, 84 percent say the public doesn't understand the problems that military families face. Longtime war correspondent Tom Ricks says he worries about the widening gap between the 1 percent of Americans who now fight U.S. wars and the 99 percent who are increasingly detached from military service.
"I'm always struck when I'm in that part of America where nobody knows anybody in the military," Ricks said. "And they're still sort of puzzled about why people do this and what it means. Then there's other parts of the country, usually around bases, where everybody knows somebody. And it simply is a different America."
Ricks, who is now with the Center for a New American Security, recalls talking with a kindergarten teacher just outside Fort Campbell, Ky., the home of the 101st Airborne Division and some key special forces.
"She said one day a kid came running in off the playground and said two Black Hawks collided over Mosul," Ricks recalled. "She said, 'Do you know what that means? To be a kindergartener and know what a Black Hawk is? To know what Mosul is? And to know the implication: that some of our parents might be dead?' "
'People Are Stepping Up'
First lady Michelle Obama has tried to bridge the gap between civilians and the military with her Joining Forces campaign. She reassured soldiers and airmen at a Virginia military base last month that the other 99 percent of Americans haven't forgotten them.
"I know sometimes it feels like a struggle," she said. "Like sometimes we don't know as a nation what you sacrifice. What your families sacrifice. But know that people are stepping up."
Michelle Obama announced Thursday new commitments from the private sector to hire 100,000 veterans and military spouses over the next couple of years. She says everyone can do something to honor the men and women who serve — especially when so many owe so much to so few.