How to Combat 12% Veteran Unemployment


“Just think about the skills veterans acquire at a very young age: The leadership they’ve earned, the technology they’ve mastered, the ability to adapt to changing circumstance that you can’t learn in the classroom,” said President Barack Obama on Monday, in a White House Rose Garden announcement regarding new initiatives intended to reduce unemployment among military veterans.

“This is exactly the kind of leadership and responsibility every American business should be competing to attract.”

The president is absolutely right – the skills and experiences our service members learned in the military are assets that can benefit the civilian job market in a variety of ways. But still, the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans so far in 2011 sits at an unacceptable 12.1%. This is much too high, even in this job market.

This isn’t just a business concern — combating veteran unemployment is our civic duty and requires the attention and dedication of the private sector, government and nonprofits working together. Anything else would be a violation of the social contract members of the all-volunteer force enter into when they enlist.

We’ve seen progress in all sectors, but we still have a long way to go.

Though it’s been a rocky year on Capitol Hill, Congress is poised to pass its first jobs bill of the year with the VOW To Hire Heroes Act. This legislation will help train veterans for the civilian marketplace and push businesses to hire vets with incentives like tax credits. It’s a win-win for vets and business owners alike, and a great step in the right direction.

Next, forward-looking companies like Southwest Airlines and Bechtel Corporation are stepping out to correct misperceptions of modern veterans. They see them as hard-working, technologically savvy leaders, not damaged goods. Additionally, several leading corporations have formed their own veteran initiatives, like Citi and JPMorgan Chase. Confusion over how to translate military skills into descriptions civilian employers understand is also part of the problem of veteran unemployment, and these companies are setting a trend by committing to developing best practices for hiring new veterans, strengthening their ranks for decades to come and cultivating their leaders of tomorrow.

IAVA started our Combat To Career Program to bolster this progress and continue raising awareness. As part of this program, we are hosting five Smart Job Fairs across the country, as part of IAVA’s Clinton Global Initiative America partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Veterans will attend the event free of charge and can draw on a host of resources being provided by IAVA, such as résumé reviews and interview skills workshops. Each veteran in attendance will also receive a certificate for business apparel to assist in the transition from Combat to Career. Employers will learn ways they can help bridge the military-civilian divide and meet other vetted and confirmed veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Vets can sign up here.

Stable employment can affect every aspect of the veterans’ transition home, from the obvious matters of financial health and homelessness to the less obvious ones like mental health. And this is not just a moral or ethical concern. It’s no exaggeration to say that investing in our veterans now will save us as a nation tons of money in the long run, as seen by the Vietnam generation and delayed costs. It’s imperative that we learn from the past and do better in the future, both for our vets and for our country as a whole.

What do you think? On this historic Veterans Day, how can we as a country and as a society ensure that more young veterans transition out of service and into employment?

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army