As we mark Veterans Day, it is important to remember the generations of brave servicemen and women who have defended the freedoms we enjoy every day as Americans. We are forever indebted to the 1.7 million veterans who have proudly served our nation in the armed forces and National Guard and now live throughout Florida. They deserve our gratitude and honor, as well as every opportunity for dignity and success as they return to civilian life, their families and their communities.
In the coming months, more than 3,200 Florida Guardsmen and women will prepare to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan. They will join the generations of Americans who have worn the uniform and answered the highest calling of citizenship. Our state and country are safer because of their sacrifices and the sacrifices of their families.
Every generation of veterans has strengthened our nation through unselfish service and then returned to civilian life, bringing their much-needed talent, skills and experience to our work force. I am confident that the current generation of returning veterans will do the same. They will become Florida's engineers, educators, entrepreneurs and more. I would like to highlight some of the opportunities available to help Florida's veterans achieve their hopes and dreams for the future.
First, I have proclaimed November as Hire a Veteran Month in Florida. In addition to the tremendous skills and work ethic our veterans provide their employers, companies hiring veterans can receive a newly expanded federal tax credit. The Recovery Act-expanded Work Opportunity Tax Credit allows employers hiring unemployed veterans and other eligible workers to receive up to $2,400 or more in tax savings for each eligible worker added to the payroll this year and next.
Second, I encourage Florida's veterans to use the New GI Bill to help them meet their educational and career goals. Veterans with three years of active service qualify to receive full benefits for up to 36 months, including tuition and fees, housing allowance, and $1,000 a year for books and supplies. Partial benefits are also available. In the Sunshine State, we have put together a Web site — www.Service2Scholars.org — where you can learn more.
Third, I encourage our service-disabled veterans to learn about becoming a certified minority-owned business. Last year, I signed legislation creating a preference in state contracting for businesses owned by service-disabled veterans. Since then, 98 businesses have received certification and are eligible for aid.
These are just a few of the steps Florida has taken to give back to the men and women in the armed forces who serve our country. Their sacrifices are immeasurable, and by extending a helping hand as they rebuild their lives, we show them we are behind them 100 percent.
While we can never truly repay our veterans for their sacrifices, we can demonstrate our gratitude by supporting them and their families. Please join me in continuing to pray for their protection and safe return and for their families and loved ones.
For more information, please visit www.FloridaVetsFirst.com.
Charlie Crist is governor of Florida.