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Bill would make it easier for vets to get jobs in the merchant navy

A new measure designed to ease requirements for veterans to join the U.S. Merchant Navy will be introduced in the Senate on Wednesday in a bid to attach the proposal to defense legislation to be passed later this year.

The Military to Mariners Act – co-sponsored by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. – would require a federal review of certification rules for veterans seeking to become merchant seamen and improvements to the application process to facilitate the acceptance of those with military experience.

“[The bill] is a bipartisan win-win for our nation’s veterans, active-duty military, and our maritime industry,” Cruz said in a statement. “It paves the way for some of our nation’s best to access high-demand, high-paying jobs as Merchant Seamen without being burdened with bureaucracy.”

The USMM is overseen by the Department of Transportation and consists of US-registered private merchant vessels that transport passengers and cargo. Transport officials said the current fleet includes more than 10,000 private vessels.

The organization is not a government-run service, but operates similarly to the US military, with ranks and a formal chain of command. During wartime, members may be called upon to serve as a United States Navy Auxiliary.

“The U.S. maritime industry supports nearly 650,000 workers,” Cantwell said in a statement. “I am proud to sponsor this bill so that we can provide additional skills, training and support so that more veterans can successfully transition into good jobs supporting our maritime supply chain.”

Candidates must apply and be certified by the Coast Guard in order to serve in certain jobs on ships.

These jobs can often demand high salaries, sometimes exceeding $100,000 per year. The senators behind the Military to Mariners Act said opening up these opportunities to separated service members — including many who already have appropriate training — would make their transition from the ranks easier.

Current training and qualification requirements can be complicated, even for Navy veterans with applicable previous experience.

The new bill — which senators will work to attach to the Coast Guard’s annual licensing measure before the Senate Commerce Committee this week — calls for that process to be streamlined, taking into account previous work and titles skills of veterans.

In 2019, then-President Donald Trump approved a new transportation program to help more veterans get into the field. But supporters of the new legislation say the current rules still don’t credit veterans for prior sea service, erasing Navy veterans’ experience of required training.

Under the bill, federal officials would have two years to propose fixes to current regulations. They would also be required to develop an online application process to simplify documentation requirements for interested veterans.

The men and women of our armed forces have the experience needed for an industry that is critical to our supply chain and our economy,” Cruz said.

Senate officials said they expect Coast Guard authorization to be included in the annual Defense Authorization Bill, which sets guidelines for Department of Defense spending. Defense every year. This measure should be finalized in December.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned him numerous accolades, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.

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