Connecticut Businesses Mull Hiring Jobless Vets

Jan 11, 2012

Unemployed veterans hope new tax credit initiatives at the state and federal levels will help them find jobs. Some Connecticut businesses say they’re just waking up to the opportunity.

Chris Mercier is a 20-year Navy veteran, recently retired from the service. A former Master at Arms and security specialist, he has plenty of applicable skills, but he’s had just three interviews in a four-month job search. “It’s frustrating," he says. For him, and many others who have spent their entire career in the military, life on the outside -- especially in the shaky economy -- has been a shock.

“I’m used to somebody taking care of me. I never had to worry about job security, medical, any of that stuff. And I get out and it’s tough. I’m married, I’ve got a son, 13 year old, going to school, he has special needs. Trying make sure I can provide for him.”

In fact unemployment among veterans is much higher than average. Jobless rates among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars run above 13 percent. Nearly 22 percent of female veterans of those wars can’t find work.

“We broach everything from how they dress to how they write to how they speak. Just getting back and readjusted so they’ll have greater success in the community.”

Jon Pierce is a veterans’ representative for the state Department of Labor. He tries to connect separating service members with civilian jobs. The federal VOW to Hire Heroes Act, co-sponsored by the 2nd District's Joe Courtney, was signed into law at the end of last year. Pierce says it provides a tax credit of up to $5,600 to employers who hire a veteran who’s been unemployed for at least six months.

“I think it’s going to be a big help to if you will swing the vote towards bringing the veteran into the workplace. Often we have a lot of them where they’re on the teeter totter on making the decision about whether they pick this person or that person.”

Connecticut also included tax benefits for hiring veterans in last year’s Jobs Act. Mike McNeil is general manager of Bell Power, an engine distribution business in Essex, and himself a Navy veteran. He says hearing news of the federal opportunity got him thinking.

“The company’s been in business since '67, and I’m only at 58 employees, so we don’t hire many. But my business is growing. I’m probably going to add 20 percent this year. Adding on that, I need good, quality people to help us grow the business and that’s why I’m looking for a vet.”

Another employer who’s on board is Steve Kassman, who runs Rein’s Deli in Vernon. He says while he can’t hire enough employees to qualify for the state tax credit, he’s only just finding out about the federal program, and it’s one he can take advantage of.

“We’ll start gearing up for our spring and summer season, that’s when we start getting busier. We’re looking to hire probably two or three full time people. Our thinking was that veterans come with built in dedication, responsibility – they accept training well, they have good leadership abilities, and we think they’d make excellent candidates for long term employees.”

While the tax credit sweetens the pot for employers who are already considering a hire, making a dent in the unemployment rate will continue to depend on a more robust economic recovery in 2012.