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Neglecting Veterans Is a Disservice to Our Economy

A veteran explains the many issues that must be addressed to help our service members get back to work when they return to civilian life.

We have all heard about the compelling attributes my fellow service members bring to the table when they look for jobs as they transition out of the military – leadership experience, goal-oriented, can-do attitude, great work ethic, etc. Yet we have also heard about the disturbing unemployment statistics for today’s youngest veterans – those in the 24-36 age group. How can this be true, and what is this Administration doing about it?

Unfortunately, our youngest veterans are entering the private workforce at a very challenging time. Many of them are likely to be employed in industries such as construction, manufacturing and transportation, which have all struggled in the last few years. Further, many of these vets come from and return to rural parts of the country, and do not have the benefit of a college degree. Another critical issue is that there currently does not exist a truly effective and cohesive transition assistance program for them. And on top of all that, a staggering number of our returning service members suffer from behavioral health issues, including Post Traumatic Stress, but these issues are not being adequately addressed. The unemployment of today’s young vets is very complicated and cannot be considered in a vacuum.

I was honored to stand behind President Obama today as he signed into law his job bill for military veterans. In a nutshell, this law encourages private industry to hire unemployed veterans and wounded warriors through several generous tax credits. On its own, the law is not an overall panacea to our veterans’ unemployment problems; when considered together with other related initiatives announced by President Obama however, the public-private partnership it fosters will certainly be a big help. And this is critical, because as we end the war in Iraq and wind down the war in Afghanistan, over one million service members are projected to leave the military between 2011 and 2016.

Some of these far-reaching initiatives include: a challenge to the private sector to hire or train 100,000 unemployed veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013; “Gold Cards” issued to service members in transition to help jump-start their job search process; the Veterans Job Bank connecting unemployed vets to job openings with companies that want to hire them; My Next Move for Veterans; and an interagency task force is now developing reforms to ensure that every service member receives the training, education and credentials they need for a successful transition. 

I do not believe that it is the business of the military services to focus on training for the private sector. I do believe, however, that they have an obligation, once the individual service member enters the transition period of his/her career, to provide an effective mechanism for him/her to succeed in pursuing higher education or a job in the civilian workforce. Collectively as a nation, we have already invested heavily in our service members through their extensive training and military education; neglecting to support them at this juncture would be doing our country, and tax dollars, a disservice. The Transition Assistance Program, provided by the Department of Defense in conjunction with the Departments of Labor, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security and long overdue for major reform and improvement, will be a critical component of the Administration’s success in battling veteran unemployment.

Public-private partnerships exist in many aspects of our military, from military housing to the GI Bill. They exist because they provide a valuable service, and in this arena of training and hiring veterans it is no different. Further details can be found here, but two examples include Microsoft offering 10,000 technology training and certification packages to veterans over a two-year period through a partnership with the Department of Labor and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce creating a private sector National Veterans Employment Advisory Council (VEAC) to promote veteran hiring, reporting measures, and mentorship. Similarly, on the purely private side, Humana will provide $1 million to support the continued expansion of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) program (I attended this program in 2009 at Syracuse University and highly recommend it). These public-private partnerships (and solely private enterprises) focusing on the transition from the military to the private sector will be critical to the success of this Administration’s collection of initiatives combating veteran unemployment, and today’s new law is just one great example of that.

A final important piece of the solution does not deal with training for a job, but rather with the mental health of our veterans. Many of us are familiar with the statistics stating that hundreds of thousands of today’s service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from this generation’s signature and invisible wounds of war – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). We deserve adequate resources from our government to provide effective treatment, and in a manner that does not adversely affect us at work. For instance, most Vet Centers only offer counseling during normal business hours - if I were to go to counseling once a week, including one hour for round trip travel and one hour for the session itself, I would burn through my sick leave as fast as I could earn it. And that does not take into account the physical therapy sessions I have to attend or other random appointments. So, right now our young veterans cannot truly work and receive the care/counseling that many of them need. This may be another opportunity for a public-private partnership – the VA could work together with Give An Hour and other nonprofit organizations to help fill the unmet needs related to mental health counseling.

President Obama’s job bill for military veterans is a great step in the right direction. Because industry is largely concerned with the “bottom line,” I hope this offers the incentive they need to hire our unemployed veterans and wounded warriors. They have proven themselves on the battlefields in foreign lands – now let them prove themselves at home.

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