Despite improvement in vets' jobless rate, Iraq, Afghanistan vets still lag

By JAMES ROSEN | McClatchy Washington Bureau | Published: March 20, 2014

WASHINGTON — Military veterans are having better luck finding jobs, outpacing their civilian counterparts in many states, but younger former troops who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan still lag behind.

Veterans in North Carolina, South Carolina and Kentucky are faring relatively well, while those in California, Idaho and Mississippi are having less success finding jobs.

Nationwide, the average unemployment rate last year for all veterans was 6.6 percent vs. 7.3 percent for the country as a whole, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, 9 percent of military personnel who served since the Sept. 11, 2011, terror attacks were without jobs, and in that group the unemployment rate leaps to 21.4 percent among veterans 18-24 years old.

Jim Reed, who grew up poor on an Arizona cattle ranch and now lives in Pinehurst, N.C., served nine deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq as a military nurse anesthetist. Now 48, he retired from the Army in 2011.

Despite his skills and background, Reed has been laid off from hospitals twice since leaving the military, most recently in December. He’s currently working about half-time pulling temporary shifts in his specialty.

“I risked my life routinely over there (in the two wars),” Reed said Thursday. “I was a lieutenant colonel in the Army with tons of experience and boatloads of combat experience. I thought that might give me some advantage, but it hasn’t because people don’t understand the military.”

Rosalinda Maury, research director with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, said veterans who are women or belong to ethnic minorities also face more difficulties finding work.

“Age is a big thing,” Maury said. “We know that younger veterans have a higher unemployment rate compared to their non-veteran counterparts. Gender and race are factors as well.”

Dan Goldenberg is executive director of the Call of Duty Endowment, a Los Angeles-based group that funds nonprofit programs to help veterans find jobs.

“There’s no question that vets make great employees, and over the long haul they do well,” he said. “The problem is with the post-9/11 vets. It’s these young vets who are suffering. They ostensibly have more skills than their civilian peers, yet their unemployment rate is higher.”

The problem will get worse, Goldenberg said, if the Pentagon follows through on its plans to cut the Army by 80,000 and reduce the Marine Corps by 20,000.

Frederick Wellman, a former senior aide to retired Gen. David Petraeus, the former top military commander in Iraq, is now CEO of Scoutcomms, a Fredericksburg, Va., firm that works with businesses and nonprofit groups to develop employment programs for veterans and military families.

“There has been progress, and companies are doing good things,” Wellman said. “But we still have a challenge with younger and new vets coming out of service finding employment. We need to keep our eyes on the ball and help these younger vets match their skills with jobs in their areas.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley hailed the news that her state’s 2013 unemployment rate for veterans was 4.1 percent, the sixth-lowest in the nation and down from 6.9 percent in 2012. Its overall unemployment rate last year was 7.6 percent.

“Taking care of our veterans is a major priority in South Carolina, and providing them opportunities to use their valuable skill sets in the workplace is a big part of meeting that responsibility,” Haley said in a statement. “This is about making sure South Carolina is the most military-friendly state in the country and letting our veterans and their families know we value their sacrifice.”

Derek Bennett served two tours in Iraq before leaving the military as an Army captain. He’s now chief of staff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit advocacy group. Bennett said that military people who join the civilian workforce generally don’t get full credit for the experience and skills they acquired while serving their nation.

“When you transition out of the military, the difficulty is trying to convince civilian hiring managers that you’re worth the investment,” Bennett said.

He said that military and business people often have difficulty understanding each other because they speak so differently and use specialized jargon that doesn’t overlap.

“(The phrase) ‘I’ll meet you at rally point for a FARP (Forward Area Refueling Point)’ is very different from (the phrase) ‘We need to monetize back-office synergies for this deal to work,’ ” Bennett said. “It’s two different languages talking past each other. Both sides have to make an effort to understand the other.”

The unemployment rate among veterans 18-24 years old is more than 21 percent, according to recent data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.


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