The Fourth of July is one of those days when politicians love to surround themselves with military veterans. They march with them in parades, they rub elbows with them at the podium, they stand with them to say the Pledge of Allegiance and they confirm their patriotism by giving everyone the impression that they would do as much for veterans as for members of their own family. And afterwards they ignore them until the next suitable holiday for paying attention comes along.
One arena in which veterans are often forgotten is the job front. The Obama administration has been making an above-average effort in this. It has been doubly difficult because, despite the Great Recession having been officially over for three years, the economy still sucks. And it sucks especially bad for post-Sept. 11 veterans. As of May, their unemployment rate was 4 percentage points above the official rate of 8.2 percent, a figure which itself vastly understates the joblessness problem.
The latest effort to do something about it comes from the $ 20 million in job-training grants for 11,000 homeless veterans announced this week by the Department of Labor. The 90 grants are being awarded through the DOL’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program for programs designed to help veterans succeed in civilian jobs. These are second- and third-year grants. In June, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced the awarding of 64 first-year grants totaling $ 15 million to train 8,600 veterans.
But that’s only one element of the administration’s efforts on this front.
In early June, on the heels of a government report, Military Skills for America’s Future: Leveraging Military Service and Experience to Put Veterans and Military Spouses Back to Work, President Obama announced that the Department of Defense would set up a Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force so veterans and service members can gain civilian occupational credentials and licenses. As many as 126,000 service members will get the opportunity to gain machinist, logistics, welding and engineering certifications for high-demand manufacturing jobs. Attention will also focus on getting service members and veterans credentialed for jobs as first responders and in health care, information technology, transportation and logistics.
As the president said at the time: Many returning veterans with advanced skills “don’t get hired simply because they don’t have the civilian licenses or certifications that a lot of companies require.”
At the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) website, Kate O’Gorman explained with an example of how the current circumstances work against many veterans:
Consider Eric Smith, who told his story before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. As a Navy Corpsman, he was responsible for a 20+ bed intensive care unit and clearly had valuable technical and leadership skills that any civilian employer would be thrilled to have on their team. Yet when he left the Navy, Eric struggled to find work as a Certified Nursing Assistant because he lacked the certification that signaled to civilian employers that he had these skills. This experience is echoed by thousands of veterans who struggle to find work. Many lack a civilian certification to do the same jobs they did in the military. Others simply struggle to explain their military skills to a civilian employer.
Another administration program initiated last August is Joining Forces. It’s a two-year, $ 120 million program of tax cuts and persuasion to put 100,000 out-of-work veterans into jobs by 2013. Persuading businesses to step up are first lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife. So far, 70,000 veterans and military spouses have been hired at more than 1,600 companies who have pledged to do their part in Joining Forces.
It’s easy to see this isn’t enough. The lackluster economy—which is what sent many young people into the military in the first place—continues to be the biggest problem. But experts say that too many employers don’t understand the capabilities of returning service members. They can’t figure how how the military training and experience meshes with civilian work. They sometimes can’t even figure out their résumés. So they don’t hire them. With more troops now returning from overseas duty and leaving the military, additional pressure will be put on a struggling labor market.
Other issues have an impact, too. Since businesses must legally hold jobs open for called-up employees who are National Guardsmen or in the Reserves, and those groups were pushed into extended tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, that pinched some employers. Ted Daywalt, who runs VetJobs.com in Georgia, told The New York Times last December: “Nearly 65 to 70 percent of employers will not now hire National Guard and Reserve. They can’t run their business with someone being taken away for 12 months.” That kind of discrimination is illegal, but a sharp employer can get around it.
There is also a reluctance to hire veterans for fear of potential off-kilter behavior from post-traumatic stress disorder, something that affects a large percentage of veterans to some extent or another. According to Invisible Wounds, a study by IAVA, some 20 percent of returning veterans has some level of PTSD.
What’s best about the White House’s approach in matters of matching veterans with proper jobs paying decent wages is that all the eggs aren’t in one basket. The administration keeps experimenting, trying out new methods to make a difference. Not focusing on one particular group to the exclusion of others. That’s a formula designed by people determined to produce real results, not just window-dressing.
Ultimately, however, the only way the situation will really improve for veterans is when it improves across the board for Americans.
Source: Daily Kos