VA Tests Innovative Solutions to Veteran Unemployment

WASHINGTON — Unemployment among veterans is higher than the civilian sector, as servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have a difficult time finding a place in the work force. This has legislators attempting to understand the root causes of the problem and VA putting resources behind innovative ideas on how to solve it.

Unemployment Disparity

Job summit: A photo of the House VA Committee veterans unemployment summit held in September.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterans who left military service during the last 10 years face an unemployment rate of 11.7% compared with the national average of 9.1%.

The House VA Committee has held field hearings around the country, including two in Indiana and Iowa. Legislators learned that the unemployment rate among young veterans there was very high — 35.6% among Operation Enduring Force/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veterans age 20 to 24. Legislators at the field hearing said they were shocked that as many as 30% of Guard and Reservists in those states do not have a job to come home to once they return home. The unemployment rate nationally among Guard and Reservists recently returned from service is 14%.

Federal agencies have been aware of this disparity, though not of its full extent, for some time, and have taken steps to address it. Those have included military and VA education and job-training programs and the inclusion in the jobs bill proposed by President Obama of a tax credit for businesses that hire veterans.

In September, before these latest statistics were released, the House VA Committee held a jobs summit, bringing together veterans advocates and major employers to discuss how best to find places for veterans in the work force. Representatives from major corporations like Microsoft, General Electric and Wal-Mart agreed that veterans made excellent employees,   because they tend to be more disciplined and easy to train.

However, they also agreed that there were barriers to getting veterans trained for those jobs. One common complaint among employers was the inability of companies to provide internships for transitioning servicemembers to give them real-world experience — a practice not allowed by DoD.

Attendees at the summit were asked to sign a “Veterans Employment Pledge,” pledging to lower the veteran unemployment rate to less than 5% by the end of 2012. Currently, the unemployment rate for veterans of all ages ranges from 7.7% to 8.1% nationally.

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