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Filner calls for veteran hiring initiative

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Congressman and mayoral candidate Bob Filner spoke to a veteran group Saturday morning, brandishing his victories on their behalf during his congressional career and pledging to extend those efforts to City Hall if elected mayor.

He also delivered an update from Congress, making the case for a bill approved this week in the House of Representatives, and spoke of his personal fondness for Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher, one of his four opponents in the mayoral race.

Filner told the veterans commission that he’d create a veterans affairs office within his mayoral administration that would encourage local businesses to hire the city’s military veterans.

The plan would begin with a summit of city employers to declare a “firm commitment” to hire veterans and begin with a goal of new jobs given to veterans.

Tax incentives and binding legislation aren’t necessary to spur the effort, Filner said.

“We’re a military town,” he said. “People will take that obligation if we’re vocal about it, if there’s support for it, if we unveil the logo that says 'I hire veterans,' that becomes something people want to have. If we have to go further than that, we’ll do it.”

After saying there was no one more qualified for the workforce than those trained in the military, Filner caught himself.

“Oh, jeez, I sound like Nathan Fletcher,” he said.

He said he thanks Fletcher for his service, but joked that the assemblyman was still a few years before he’d be ready to be mayor.

Over the course of the race the two have become friends, Filner said.

“When you see the two of us debate, usually we’re the only two who show up, it’s not a stand-up comedy routine, but it’s two people who like each other, are different, and we have a friendship, and a sense of humor, and a civility that people comment on all the time,” he said.

“So each one of us is going to be unemployed if we lose this election, so we’re going to hire each other,” Filner said.

Throughout his mayoral campaign, Filner has pledged to bring from D.C. his efforts to combat veteran homelessness with a “housing first” strategy. He says the VA’s 2009 plan to end homelessness in five years will have cut the local issue in half, making his task that much more manageable.

The second half of the solution, he says, depends on increasing the number of beds and rooms available to homeless veterans.

He said the city should look to use federally available funds to purchase large properties that would give hundreds of veterans at a time a place to live. Specifically, he said, the Cabrillo Hospital in Point Loma and the recently sold Holiday Inn downtown should have been purchased so the city could house up to 400 veterans immediately.

“I want to make dramatic steps to get people housed,” he said. “We have so many resources to take care of problems.”

He cited his work with the Veterans Village of San Diego as an example of this sort of solution.

Filner was chair of the House’s Committee on Veterans Affairs from 2007 through 2011, the first Democrat to hold the seat since Sonny Montgomery in 1994.

He told San Diego Veterans Commission the committee accomplished more under his four years of leadership than it had in decades.

Specifically, he mentioned increasing the VA’s health care budget from $30 billion to $50 billion, signing a new GI Bill that brought funding back to the 1944-level and extended the benefit to spouses and children of veterans.

Filner said he worked closely on an amendment to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act passed earlier this month that widens foreclosure protection for active and recently discharged military and the spouses of military members who died in combat.

Executives for JPMorganChase that are foreclosing on active-duty military personnel are murderers, Filner said.

“If anybody committed suicide because of financial distress — and that’s the second leading cause of suicide — and that financial stress was created by the foreclosure, then they contributed to the death of that soldier,” Filner said.

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