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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi is home to more than 28,000 veterans who have served since 9/11, and Gov. Phil Bryant is working to ensure they have access to jobs when they return from service. The unemployment rate for veterans in the U.S. returning from the Global War on Terrorism was 10.8 percent in December, substantially higher than the national average of 7.8 percent for the same time period.

Gov. Bryant signed a proclamation Wednesday declaring 2013 as the year to Hire Mississippi Heroes, which will encourage employers to seek veteran candidates for positions. Bryant is working with two lawmakers to pass legislation that ensures returning veterans have jobs, a top priority for the governor.

“Our many active duty, reserve and retired military members deserve to return to good paying jobs that allow these men and women to use skills learned in the military,” Gov. Bryant said.

Mississippi Department of Employment Security Executive Director Mark Henry, Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard Augustus L. Collins and numerous service organizations, such as the Disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, joined Gov. Bryant for the announcement.

This proclamation was coupled with a Pledge to Hire Mississippi Heroes outreach program, in which MDES will assist employers that make the pledge in finding qualified veterans for open positions. MDES offers services for posting jobs, screening applications and sending referrals at no cost to participating Mississippi businesses.

“The Pledge to Hire Mississippi Heroes is a great opportunity for returning veterans and Mississippi businesses,” Henry said. “Our WIN Job Centers can assist veterans with re-entering the workforce and introduce Mississippi employers to the benefits of hiring veterans.”

Gov. Bryant and MDES will host three Pledge to Hire Mississippi Heroes job fairs this year:

— March 8 at the Mississippi Agriculture and Forestry Museum in Jackson, Miss.

— April 9 at the Biloxi Civic Center in Biloxi, Miss.

— June 27 at the Itawamba Community College Belden Center in Tupelo, Miss.

To further aid returning veterans and their spouses in finding employment, Gov. Bryant will propose legislation requiring state licensing agencies to consider military job training received by returning veterans who apply for professional licenses.

The governor also recommends that licensing agencies grant temporary occupational licenses to qualified military spouses who relocate in Mississippi due to military transfer so these individuals can find jobs in the state while applying for professional licenses. Rep. Wanda Jennings and Sen. Briggs Hopson will sponsor the legislation.

“Our Guard men and women are dedicated professionals who have worked diligently in their areas of expertise,” Maj. Gen. Augustus Collins said. “They are masters in their skills and specialties, and we appreciate the efforts of MDES and our lawmakers in connecting these veterans with employers in our state.”

Representatives from Ingalls Shipbuilding, Entergy and Brown Bottling signed the Pledge to Hire Mississippi Heroes. Employers may sign the pledge at local WIN Job Centers or online at mdes.ms.gov.

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