Unemployment rates for the nation continue to be unacceptably high, and veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have been hit especially hard. Last month unemployment for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans was at 13.1 percent, compared to 7.7 percent among all veterans and 8.1 percent for non-veterans. To further exacerbate this issue, nearly a third of young veterans are unemployed, and more than 20 percent of women veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed. With all troops leaving Iraq at the end of 2011, and the President’s recent announcements on a total reduction in the active duty force, the VFW is concerned that the prospects for employment for today’s veterans will only continue to get worse if proper steps are not taken to reduce veteran unemployment. These young veterans need extra assistance. Without this help, many veterans could become homeless or potential suicide victims, especially those with TBI and other mental and physical wounds.
We applaud Congress, particularly Chairmen Murray and Miller and your committees, for successfully passing comprehensive bipartisan veterans’ employment legislation last session with the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. We believe this critical bill will help increase the hiring of veterans, and also provide veterans’ advocates like the VFW with the information we need to make informed policy recommendations on how to best improve transitional programs. However, the work is not done. The new initiatives of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act demand tremendous scrutiny from Congress to ensure that they are implemented correctly and that they work.
Beyond these efforts, the VFW believes we must all encourage employers to put veterans at the top of their hiring list by better educating corporate America about the skills and professionalism veterans bring to the workplace. Far too often corporate America sees our fighting men and women as ill-suited for productivity in the civilian workforce. The reality is that the cultural divide between the military community and the rest of society has led to misconceptions that are preventing companies from securing the best possible workforce.
Military recruiters are quick to point out that only 25 percent of today’s 18 to 24-year-old youth meet military health, aptitude and physical fitness standards. They are the cream of the crop, and whether they serve in uniform for four years or 30, they have gained unparalleled leadership and team-oriented skills, while securing world-class training and experience that broadly apply across all sectors of the economy. We must all do more to let corporate America know they are missing out on exemplary employees who have what it takes to meet and exceed all expectations. These Americans are an underutilized, job-ready resource, which is why the VFW urges Congress to commission a national “Hire a Vet” public relations campaign, and pull out all stops in an effort to close the civilian-military communication gap. We must demonstrate that our veterans offer the professionalism, leadership qualities, mission-centric attitude and attention-to-detail attributes that all American employers demand from their employees.
We must also continue to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit that many veterans possess. This can be done by enforcing the three-percent contract set aside rule, and increasing Small Business Administration funding for new Veterans Business Development Centers. These centers will provide veterans with necessary training, business planning, networking, and access to capital. However, we cannot stop simply with Small Business Centers. We must leverage the expertise and business acumen of our nation’s most successful civilian entrepreneurs, many of whom are veterans, to encourage the rest of Americans who have never served to step forward as mentors to veterans who want to start their own businesses.