U.S. defense leaders worried about the future of veterans in a downsized military are working to improve their job prospects, with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meeting with executives of top Wall Street firms in New York on Friday.

Each branch of the American military is shrinking, as the Pentagon tries to meet congressionally mandated budget reductions. The Army, after hitting a high of 570,000 service members during the Iraq war, is being reduced to 490,000. If across-the-board spending cuts remain in place, the Army may have to cut an additional 110,000, which would give it the smallest number of active-duty members since before World War II.


"This challenge is going to multiply," Hagel said at the beginning of the Friday meeting with J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive James Dimon as well as executives from Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank AG, Bank of America Corp. and others. They offered Hagel suggestions for how the military could better prepare service members for the civilian workforce.

J.P. Morgan, which hosted the meeting, has led an effort by 123 companies begun in 2011 to hire veterans for 100,000 jobs, resulting in about 92,000 hires so far. Dimon said more should be done to reach out to other companies and try to hire many more.

"It is all coordination, real estate and training," Dimon said. "There are a million good ideas here."

Dimon is negotiating a settlement with the Justice Department under which the company would pay $13 billion to end a number of civil investigations into its sale of mortgage securities before the 2008 financial crisis. Nonetheless, Hagel's desire to meet with him indicates the bank is still viewed favorably by many within the administration.

Eric Molina, a military veteran who works at J.P. Morgan Chase, suggested a program to allow service members to shadow workers in their chosen fields. That would help link the military to corporations interested in hiring veterans. More importantly, it also would introduce service members to mentors and ease the transition from military to civilian work, he said. "Get them out of a uniform, get them into a suit," he said. "That will bridge the cultural difference and will help both sides."

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