<< The Body Politic

Winning the long war against veteran unemployment

Friday, May 4th, 2012

In the Los Angeles Times, David Zucchino writes about the problems facing returning veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as they now seek employment in the civilian sector. As Zucchino notes, the unemployment rate for these veterans is 10.3% (compared to 8.2% nationally), and for veterans ages 24 and under, the rate is 29.1% (compared to 17.6% nationally for that age group). He writes:

For unemployed veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, rejection is a special ordeal. Veterans’ advocacy groups, and many unemployed veterans, say civilian employers don’t always appreciate veterans’ skills and maturity. They point out that this is the first generation of employers who have no widespread military experience and thus no inherent appreciation for what the institution can provide. […]

Further, the increased military and media attention given topost-traumatic stress disorderand traumatic brain injury has had the effect of stigmatizing veterans, advocates say. Some employers fear that soldiers diagnosed with these conditions are prone to violence or instability.

A survey this year by the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that a quarter of its members could not find a job to match their skill level, and half said they did not believe employers were open to hiring veterans.

“These veterans have skills and maturity a decade beyond their civilian peers,” said Tom Tarantino, the group’s deputy policy director, who couldn’t find work for 10 months after he left the Army in 2007. “It’s very frustrating for them to be told they have to retrain for jobs they’ve already been trained for in the military.”

Tarantino said that he spent 10 years as an officer who managed a multimillion-dollar budget and supervised 400 people.

“They just don’t get it,” Tarantino said of today’s employers. “It’s hard to make that cultural connection.”

As we’ve noted before, a number of new organizations and partnerships have been formed to assist returning veterans translate their military experience into marketable skills for civilian employers. (Some of these resources include the “Hiring Our Heroes” initiative of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “Hire Heroes USA”, the 100,000 Jobs Mission, the National Resource Directory’s Veterans Job Bank, and the U.S. Department of Labor’s “Gold Card” and “My Next Move” services.)

Hiring veterans is just one part of the solution, though. As Nathan Herman, the Chief Administrative Officer of Military and Veterans Affairs at JP Morgan Chase & Co., writes at the Huffington Post, “Like the ‘shock and awe’ operations of Operation Iraqi Freedom, there are many public efforts underway to raise awareness about veteran unemployment–efforts which are absolutely necessary but only part of the battle plan. Our collective efforts cannot simply be about helping veterans find a job but must also be about providing them with the skills and support they need to turn that job into a long-term career.”

Long term success requires that we put as much effort into assimilating, retaining and promoting veterans as we do on recruiting and hiring them. For the veteran, success in the new job or career will be a function of developing a sense of mission, mastering the functional skills required of the new job, developing an understanding of the norms and process that define the “corporate culture” and learning how to operate in organizations much larger, smaller and almost certainly less hierarchical than the military environment. They must also contribute to the bottom line or else businesses will cease to recruit in this space. If a veteran produces results for the business, he/she will be valued by the firm and will be given opportunities for advancement. True success isn’t just a measurement of how many veterans we’ve hired but also by how many we’ve retained and promoted. […]

Providing meaningful employment to those who serve now will prove to future generations that serving our nation will offer them great opportunities when transiting out of service. As a result, we’ll be protecting the health of the all volunteer force.  At the end of the day, success for both sides of the equation requires building a battle plan that is sustainable after the initial shock and awe. We need to win the long war to successfully combat veteran unemployment.