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Montville - U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy told a gathering here Wednesday that he worries about the effect of high unemployment rates among military veterans, a problem that's likely to grow as more and more soldiers return home from Afghanistan.
Earlier in the day, during a visit to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton, he encountered concern about cutbacks in military spending, too.
"There's a real danger that we're sending a poor message to young people thinking about joining the military - or about re-upping," Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said.
With the unemployment rate among veterans nationally at about 6 percent and the rate among Connecticut veterans ranging from 7 to 8 percent, Murphy met with members of the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce and veterans groups at the Hyatt Place hotel.
"I'm looking for suggestions," the senator said.
On the federal level, the government has largely addressed the unemployment issue by providing employers with financial incentives to hire veterans. In Connecticut, a wage subsidy program helps pay the salary of newly hired veterans over the first six months of their employment.
Michael Zacchea, an academic specialist at the University of Connecticut School of Business, described the goals of the fledgling Connecticut Veterans Chamber of Commerce, which seeks to represent the interests of the more than 42,000 veteran-owned businesses in the state.
"We're creating a veteran-centric business community," Zacchea said.
The group, established in December, has lobbied the state legislature on behalf of veterans employment. In the future, it plans to develop a veterans' business "incubator" facility and pursue venture capital support for veteran-owned businesses.
As several speakers noted, veterans who start businesses are more likely than non-veteran employers to hire veterans.
Zacchea said that in his roles as director of UConn's Entrepreneur Boot Camp for Veterans and founder of the Veterans Chamber of Commerce, he has had to fight the perception that Connecticut is inhospitable to veterans.
Ted Phillips, a member of the Norwich chamber's executive board, said high unemployment among veterans in eastern Connecticut is simply the result of an overall lack of jobs. He blamed that circumstance, in part, on Connecticut's reliance on personal property taxes.
"Our tax policy on the state level is a disaster," he said. "The bottom line is that political policies need to be changed to restore job growth. If you don't have job growth for everybody, you're not going to have jobs for veterans."
Others at the meeting said many veterans return home with needs that are more immediate than a job and that they need to be steered toward groups that can provide them with camaraderie and support.
"We need to look at veterans' health needs. That's the No. 1 priority," Dominick Cortese of the Disabled American Veterans group said.
"These people are coming home with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBIs (traumatic brain injuries). I can guarantee you, there are more who are unhealthy than there are who are healthy. The first thing we need to do is get them healthy."