In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama proposed the creation of a Veterans Job Corp to curb high unemployment rates for returning veterans.

As the Health Facilities Association of Maryland has pointed out, unemployment rates for returning veterans are much higher than the general population. In Maryland alone, the average civilian unemployment rate is 6.9%, compared to almost 30% for recent veterans, according to the Health Facilities Association of Maryland (HFAM). Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan often are saddled with record numbers of traumatic brain injuries and other types of disabilities that make finding jobs even harder.

Fortunately, healthcare groups and the federal government are working on ways to help veterans find jobs in a field where dedication and compassion are valued — and that industry is long-term care. With the co-operation of local lawmakers, HFAM has announced an initiative that encourages long-term care facilities to hire returning veterans for positions ranging from direct care to billing and supply management.

This builds on legislation signed by President Obama in November that gives businesses who hire returning veterans tax breaks. The bill, called “VOW to Hire Heroes Act,” lets companies claim a credit against taxes owed of as much as $5,600 for hiring veterans, and as much as $9,600 for hiring veterans with service-connected disabilities, if the veteran has been looking for work for six months or longer.

As a child of two baby boomers, I’ve always been acutely aware of the role veterans have played in shaping our country. My father is a Vietnam veteran and three out of four of my grandparents joined the Army during World War II. When their wars ended, however, they were lucky enough to return to secure jobs and assistance from the GI Bill. Our current veterans deserve the same.

At first blush, hiring veterans to work in nursing homes doesn’t seem like an obvious fit, but when you consider that all veterans have survived boot camp you will realize that makes them at LEAST as tough as your average director of nursing.

Consider, also, how many veterans now reside in nursing homes. While the numbers of WWII veterans is shrinking quickly, Korean and Vietnam war veterans are swelling in ranks in coming years. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from growing up surrounded by veterans, it’s that they love nothing more than sharing their own memories with fellow veterans, regardless of which war or theater the other served in.

If long-term care facilities start hiring more veterans — and I believe they should — I think we would be amazed at the connections that would develop between residents and staff.