Hiring more heroes

LIHUE — Jim Armstrong knows what it’s like to be a veteran struggling to find work.

“I was deemed ‘unemployable,’” he said, referring to his numerous health issues, some of which stem from a 1969 parachuting accident while serving in Vietnam.

Armstrong is among those on Kauai applauding the reintroduction of a bill in the House of Representatives that incentivizes small businesses to hire veterans.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic as far as helping the veteran, giving the veteran a hand up,” he said.

Lawmakers opened the new legislative session last week by unanimously passing the Hire More Heroes Act by a vote of 412-0, making it the first bill passed by the 114th Congress.

The measure would allow employers to hire those with health coverage under TRICARE or the Veterans Administration without having to count them as full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act.

Among those who co-sponsored the legislation was Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-District 2), a captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard. During a speech on the House floor, she said supporting it was a “no-brainer” because of the key constituencies it serves — veterans and small businesses.

“As we begin the 114th Congress, passage of this bipartisan Hire More Heroes Act, which focuses on empowering and employing our veterans, is the perfect tone to bring in the new year,” she said in a statement.

Edward Kawamura, president of the Kauai Veterans Council, said it only makes sense that those who serve the country have support when they return home.

“It’s good that people are thinking about offering them a job,” he said of veterans. “I think it’s very important to help them feel welcome, welcome (them) home.”

As Vietnam veterans, Kawamura said he and others didn’t have that experience.

“But times have changed,” he said. “We should move forward.”

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, 4.2 percent of the state’s 51,000 veterans were unemployed in 2013. Nationally, the rate dipped to 9 percent in 2013 from 9.9 the year before.

Last year, the Hire More Heroes Act was introduced and passed in the House, but died in the Senate.

If passed, Armstrong believes the Hire More Heroes Act would give vets a better chance of survival in society. Without a job, veterans feel incredibly worthless, he said, often becoming depressed or turning to drugs.

“Without being put back into the workforce, he’s not part of society, and doesn’t have a chance to have a normal life or live a normal life,” Armstrong said. “He’s going to be looked upon and feel like a welfare recipient.”

Armstrong said he has met many young veterans on Kauai who feel that way and have fallen astray. However, he believes, and hopes, things may finally be starting to change — the Hire More Heroes Act being a perfect example.

“Veterans Day is every day, because we celebrate freedom every day,” he said. “This is something that they did for veterans, and it’s not Veterans Day. It’s terrific.”

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Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cdangelo@thegardenisland.com.

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