The war in Iraq may officially be over, but returning service members are coming home to an entirely different battle—the battle to find a good, well-paying job. And it is a battle they are losing, badly.
There are approximately one million unemployed veterans under 65. As shocking as that is, it’s even worse for young veterans.
The unemployment rate for 20 to 24 year old veterans averages an astronomic 30 percent–more than double their civilian counterparts–and these numbers are expected to rise.
The challenge of employment begins as a service member takes the first few steps of initial departure from the military.
The Services must take greater responsibility to situate departing military personnel for transition so that they can reposition themselves and their families for their next phase of life.
Each Service has its own unique "alumni program" designed for this very effort. However, the incentive to better position service members for their new civilian lives is also with industry.
Future employers want to help ready these great patriots for the next steps. Prospective employers must have access to databases that are managed and held by the Services of those that are departing the military.
If an employer can help prepare a service member for his or her new work environment, work demands and business culture through educational opportunities, internships, seminars and specific skills training, then that person has a confident head start. This is neither a hand out nor a hand up; it's smart policy.
And while the government has been giving the issue of veterans’ unemployment greater attention in recent months with tax incentives for companies and job programs for returning service members, it’s still nowhere near enough. Breaking down barriers that disconnect job-seeking veterans and employers is vital.
Many veterans have a difficult time translating their military service into tangible civilian job experience. It can be complicated to explain to potential employers that operating a machine gun requires strong leadership skills, calm under pressure and teamwork. For veterans who joined the military right out of high school or college, the thought of drafting a resume and sitting through interviews for the first time is daunting.
Meanwhile, employers and recruiters often overlook military resumes because they fear a service member may leave the job to return to service or suffer from combat-related disabilities such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other physical ailments as a result of their service to our nation.
More and more, we see the business community creating effective partnerships with organizations whose mission is to support veterans’ reintegration. There are a multitude of organizations that work to provide our military heroes with job training and job placement assistance once their days in uniform are done.
Groups like the Chamber Foundation’s ‘Hiring Our Heroes’ program and Hire Heroes USA sponsor job fairs that have helped thousands of returning veterans get back to work.
Others, such as Still Serving Veterans and the Business Professional Women’s Foundation mentor veterans and assist with job training and placement.
The Call of Duty Endowment, for example, on whose advisory board I serve, established by Activision Blizzard, creator of the popular video game franchise “Call of Duty,” supports community-based organizations working on behalf of veterans.
We used to welcome our military heroes home with ticker-tape parades and cheering crowds. Today, veterans are greeted by long unemployment lines.
This isn’t the way heroes should be treated.
Veterans are among the brightest, most highly trained and hardest working Americans—they warrant the best employment opportunities after their service concludes.
Here are three ways you can help our veterans:
1. Donate time to work with a veterans’ organization.
2. Help provide expertise and connections.
3. Hire a veteran today. It will be one of the best business decisions a company, and our country, could make in 2012.
Brigadier General James A. “Spider” Marks (USA-Ret.) spent more than 30 years in uniform in the intelligence field. He serves on the Advisory Board for the Call of Duty Endowment, a non-profit seeking to help organizations that provide job placement and training for veterans.