The latest job numbers have yet to elicit much cheer, with the national unemployment rate still above 7.5 percent – now for a record 54 consecutive months. There is, however, some welcome news for veterans who have faced disturbingly high joblessness in recent years. Although far from rosy, the job outlook for our military heroes is showing modest signs of improvement, thanks in part to hiring initiatives within the public and private sectors.

Building Job Opportunities

Mississippi is taking a leading role in promoting avenues for service members to find meaningful and well-paid work. Gov. Phil Bryant declared 2013 as the year to “Hire Mississippi Heroes,” and job fairs across the state are connecting veterans and their spouses to employment opportunities. I am encouraged by the dozens of local employers who have participated in these events and made a pledge to hire veterans. They recognize the valuable training and skills that the men and women who have worn America’s uniform bring to the workplace.

State legislation can also support the transition between active duty and civilian life. Earlier this year, Gov. Bryant signed a measure into law that streamlines the process to obtain a professional license for individuals with military training and their spouses. I have supported similar legislation in Congress. Veterans should be able to utilize their specialized knowledge after they return home, and this experience can now be applied to licensing requirements.

Addressing Unique Challenges

Keeping unemployment numbers on the decline will take continued vigilance and effort. Despite some progress, plenty of work remains. According to a June report from the VA, joblessness among post-9/11 veterans is 9.6 percent, two full percentage points higher than the national average

There are more than 28,000 Mississippians who have served in the armed forces since 9/11. These men and women are an essential part of our communities, and their sacrifice should not be forgotten once their military service ends. An important aspect of honoring this service is ensuring we provide them every opportunity to integrate into the civilian workforce.

Addressing the unique and diverse employment challenges that veterans face has already led to positive reforms. The Defense Department has improved the Transition Assistance Program, which prepares service members in their move to civilian work. Federal legislation like the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, enacted in 2011, offers tax credits to employers who hire and train unemployed veterans and those with service-connected disabilities. Because of the G.I. Bill, millions of veterans have enhanced their professional training and education. As a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will continue to work with military leaders to stress the importance of these programs to veterans and potential employers.

Focusing on the Future

Of course, policies that encourage job growth help all Americans, not just veterans. Streamlining the tax code, repealing the President’s harmful health-care law, and cutting unnecessary regulations are important for long-term economic growth and job creation.

With more troops coming home, it is imperative to build on past successes. Ensuring our military heroes can find work and provide for their families is a crucial way we can give back to those who have already given so much.