Jefferson City, Mo. With hundreds of thousands of wounded veterans looking for work after World War II, many states offered businesses an incentive to hire the returning heroes. They created special disability funds to help pay the tab should a soldier with a missing arm or eye suffer a second, debilitating injury in a private-sector job.
Over the ensuing decades, those disability funds provided aid not to only veterans, but to thousands of others with pre-existing ailments who slipped and fell, twisted their backs or blew out their knees while at work.
But as a new generation of wounded warriors returns from Iraq and Afghanistan, about 20 states have shut down their special disability funds because of rising costs and others are teetering on insolvency, tearing holes in the safety net the funds were intended to provide.
Today, the federal government and some states are offering tax breaks to encourage businesses to hire returning veterans. But more than 675,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have reported disabilities, and they are having a harder time getting jobs than their able-bodied, private-sector counterparts, said David Autry, a spokesman for Disabled American Veterans.
“We understand states are strapped for cash, thanks to the economy,” Autry said. But “it would be a shame to just let these funds disappear.” The unemployment rate for veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan is 12.1 percent, compared with 9.5 percent for those without disabilities.
Since the recession, many businesses are cautious about extra costs related to employees, according to Chamber of Commerce officials.
“If you talk to businesses, they are more hesitant in making any type of investment at this point, including the hiring of people,” said Missouri chamber spokeswoman Karen Buschmann.