This is the second of a three-part series examining government services addressing key challenges among military veterans amid high unemployment, a woeful economic outlook and an anticipated influx of veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan in the next few years.
When Nick Colgin came back from treating gunshot wounded soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan, he set out to find a job doing what he had done well enough to save lives in the war-torn country.
Instead, the Army veteran was under- or unemployed for two years.
“The job market wasn’t nearly as bad when I got back in 2008 as it is now,” said Colgin, who was hired last month to work for the nonprofit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “I wanted a job. I didn’t want a handout.”
Colgin’s plight involved a complex and ineffective system that leaves veterans short on job search skills and necessary certifications as well as employer discrimination and a lack of support for mental health issues. The difficult transition he and other veterans face, how the system has sometimes fallen short and what’s being done in the federal government to improve the situation was the subject of the first of this three-part series.
Colgin’s story is representative of an estimated 1 million veterans in the U.S. without full-time jobs despite skills and training that could be utilized across myriad industries. More than one in four veterans between the ages of 20 and 24 are unemployed, according to Labor Department figures.
Those statistics, along with another 1 million-plus troops on their way home and presumably into the job market, has spurred efforts across federal agencies to boost veteran employment in the public and private sectors.
Currently, less than 30 percent of federal workers are military veterans, according to Office of Personnel Management statistics. Last year, 39 percent of new hires at the largest federal agencies were veterans (see chart below). Officials hope new efforts will mean veterans eventually make up at least 40 percent of the federal workforce.
President Obama has also launched initiatives to help veterans find jobs and proposed tax credits designed to lower veteran unemployment through increased hiring, improve resources for veterans to translate their military skills for the civilian workforce, and provide veterans with new tools to aid their search for jobs.
Today, Congress will consider provisions in the American Jobs Act to encourage private companies to hire unemployed veterans. The Returning Heroes Tax Credit will provide firms that hire unemployed veterans with a maximum credit of $5,600 per veteran. The Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities with a maximum credit of $9,600 per veteran.
These come on the heels of initiatives announced in August, including a new task force led by the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to develop reforms to ensure exiting service members get training, education and credentials necessary for transitioning to the civilian workforce or pursuing higher education. This would include a Reverse Boot Camp to extend service members’ transition period to accommodate more career counseling and guidance.
“Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are coming home to unacceptable levels of joblessness,” IAVA Founder and Executive Director Paul Rieckhoff said in a statement. “There is no better way to show veterans that Washington really honors their service this Veterans Day (11/11/11) than by unanimously passing this legislation.”
Private Industry Steps Up
Many factors have contributed to veteran unemployment. However, federal officials, private industry executives and veterans themselves point to a need for support and training through veterans’ transition from military service to civilian employment.
Though lauded for their leadership skills and drive, translating skills from military to civilian applications among young veterans with limited experience in workforce requires time, effort and resources that have been lacking in the past, officials said.
“They offer leadership skills that are a benefit to any company but it doesn’t happen without a plan for transitioning,” said Andrea Taylor, Microsoft’s Director of U.S. Community Affairs. “Many are young and inexperienced and might be entering into a vacuum in the corporate marketplace and a tough economy. Many companies might not be prepared to help with the transition. It’s not always as simple a process as it would seem.”
She added: “They might have been using technology, but it was to operate weapons and that doesn’t apply to jobs here, even if the technology skills are similar or useful. Additional training is required.”
Still, Taylor said, the investment pays off. That’s why Microsoft is among several individual companies that have launched or expanded efforts to hire veterans and help transition them from military careers to the private sector.
Microsoft expanded a transitional training program that involves a partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor to distribute 10,000 technology training and certification packages to veterans. The resources will be provided over a two-year period through Department of Labor One-Stop Career Centers, which are designed to provide a full range of assistance to job seekers under one roof.
Intel launched a similar initiative Wednesday.
Federal Efforts Under Way
As for the public sector, Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey said efforts are under way to increase veteran hiring within federal agencies and streamline the hiring process for disabled veterans as well as encourage hiring veterans as federal contractors.
Karen Evans, former Administrator of the Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology (IT) at the Office of Management and Budget, said federal agencies might be missing out on applications from skilled veterans, particularly those adept in cybersecurity, due to complicated job descriptions.
“I think the biggest challenge within the federal government is the veterans don’t necessarily see how their skills translate into government job descriptions,” said Evans, who’s now a partner in a consultancy and serves as National Director at US Cyber Challenge. “They don’t necessarily advertise a job in plain English.”
“In my view, given their training and mindset when they come back they are actually the perfect people to go into cybersecurity jobs,” she added. “They’re always on guard. That mindset is a good mindset for going into the cybersecurity profession.”
While there’s always more could be done, numerous efforts are under way within the federal government to address veteran unemployment. They include:
• In October, changes were made to the Post-9/11 GI Bill to provide vocational training and other non-degree job training programs for Veterans in order to gain the skills necessary to achieve good-paying jobs.
• The Office of Personnel Management will create a “best practices” guide to help private-sector companies identify and hire vets.
• President Obama has issued a challenge to businesses to commit to hire or provide training to 100,000 unemployed veterans and spouses by the end of 2013. A number of major U.S. firms – Microsoft, AT&T and Lockheed Martin among them – already have committed to the program.
• Effective this week, a Department of Labor initiative allows Post-9/11 veterans to download the Veteran Gold Card, which entitles them to enhanced services including six months of personalized case management, assessments and counseling, at the roughly 3,000 One-Stop Career Centers located across the country.
• Also this week, the Department of Labor launched My Next Move for Veterans, a new online resource that allows veterans to enter their military occupation code and discover civilian occupations for which they are well qualified. The site will also include information about salaries, apprenticeships, and other related education and training programs.
• On Monday, the Obama Administration will launch the Veterans Job Bank, at National Resource Directory, an easy to use tool to help veterans find job postings from companies looking to hire them. It already searches over 500,000 job postings and is growing. In a few easy steps, companies can make sure the job postings on their own websites are part of this Veterans Job Bank.
In Part 3 of this series, Breaking Gov will examine efforts to improve and streamline care for veterans’ health problems, a common roadblock in obtaining employment.