Veterans Impacted by Another Crisis: Unemployment

Veterans Impacted by Another Crisis: Unemployment

The unemployment rate last year for young male veterans, including those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, hit 21.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The stats show that veterans have a hard time making the transition from serving in war to coming home and finding work.

The unemployment rate for the general population in March 2010 was 9.7 percent, according to the Department of Labor.

However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have data about the unemployment rate specifically of young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans because it doesn’t ask questions about where veterans served, but only the time period in which they served active duty. So, the young veterans’ studied in the unemployment rate for last year were not exclusively from Iraq and Afghanistan, but they all were between 18 and 24 years old and served somewhere. They are referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans, and information was obtained from about 60,000 households.

When comparing statistics, though, it is best to compare the same age groups and same sex, said Jim Walker, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Young veterans are overwhelmingly men (79 percent), and men typically have higher unemployment rates than do women, so the comparison to non-veterans is skewed. Non-veterans are 50 percent men.”

The percentage of young male veterans’ unemployed last year was higher than the 19.1 percent jobless rate for young male nonveterans of the same ages, 18 to 24.

However, Walker said, “Young people, whether veterans or non-veterans, are more likely to be unemployed than older workers.”

The unemployment rate of young veterans for 2008 was 14.1 percent.

Also, nearly one in three employed veterans with a service-connected disability worked in the public sector, and one in five disabled veterans was employed by the federal government.

As of last year, about 1.9 million veterans had served during Gulf War-era II since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Many struggle with mental health problems, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, substance abuse, and other issues. Such issues can stall their adjusting to civilian life and finding work.

John Challenger is president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the nation’s oldest outplacement consulting organization. The firm has provided top quality outplacement programs for executives, middle managers and long-term or highly valued employees. Challenger looks at factors that affect the job market, and he said the recent unemployment statistics for young veterans are “disturbing.”

Also, Challenger said, “One of the traits that young veterans do possess is leadership qualities, so at a very young age, young people who are in the military learn about how to deal with people, to work with each other well, and they often become much more focused on the task at hand.”

Being in a war zone makes you grow up quickly, Challenger said. “So, I think people in the military really do become very mission-focused or goal-oriented. They speak up and become very mature for their age,” he said.

Mental health problems can be challenging, though, he said. “If you come back with PTSD, you can be at risk, and it can present serious difficulties to fit back into mainstream stateside environment,” Challenger said.

Matching young veterans with jobs depends on whether their best traits are paired with the right jobs, Challenger said. “It depends what their strengths are and what they work on,” he said. Many may gain leadership skills in the military, especially in combat duty, and young veterans also become mission-focused and goal-oriented.

Some young veterans who are people-oriented might do well in sales and customer service, he said, while others who operate computers well might want to use those skills at work.

“If you are naturally math and science oriented or technology-oriented, that’s likely where you’d get in the job market,” he said.

If young veterans gain certain skills in the military – in, say, trucking – they might want to do similar work after leaving the military, he said.

Of the 287,000 employees in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) workforce, about 30 percent are veterans and 8 percent are service-connected disabled veterans. Also, the VA ranks first among nondefense agencies in the hiring of disabled veterans and is second only to the Department of Defense in overall number of veterans.

Nine regional Veterans Employment Coordinators (VECs) located throughout the US focus to work with those veterans interested in employment at VA locations nationwide.
Regional VECs also work closely with more than 160 previously-established collateral duty VECs at local Human Resources offices nationwide to identify potential employment opportunities.

VECs try to maintain a constant presence at career fairs, transition assistance seminars, and other outreach events offering potential veteran/service member interaction to highlight this initiative, according to Drew Brookie, deputy press secretary for the VA. Regional VECs also assist in establishing partnerships with military service programs such as the Marine Corps’ Wounded Regiment and Army’s Wounded Warrior Programs to promote VA career opportunities.

Here are some programs that help veterans looking for work:

  • Veterans Employment Coordination Service, which attracts, recruits and hires veterans into the VA, offers hands-on employment assistance, resume tips, skills and qualifications assessment, placement assistance, case management and training and development counseling.
  • VA’s Vocational Rehab and Employment program assists veterans with service-connected disabilities to prepare for, find and keep suitable jobs.
  • Hire Heroes USA’s mission is to provide career placement assistance to returning service men and women, and the program specializes in the placement of those injured or with any level of disability.