Veterans and Unemployment

The employment situation for Veterans in our country is serious. The current unemployment rate among recent Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans is well above the 9.1 percent rate for the country at large. While the overall unemployment rate for veterans of all generations is 8.8%, for young veterans it was 13.3% in June.

While military and veterans’ groups are pressing congressional leaders to quickly pass legislation, President Obama’s and Congress’ efforts to helping Veterans find work has proven difficult. “A major hiring initiative launched by the Obama administration to get Veterans into the federal workforce resulted in a net increase of just 2,000 more Veterans being hired,” reports Rick Maze in

Being in staffing and human resources, our part is to start to understand the value of a candidate’s military background in practical terms and educate hiring managers. The volunteer based model of our country’s armed services makes the military unfamiliar to most of the population. The amount of people in active duty represents only about one-half of one percent of Americans. Does that mean that we are so far removed by what happens while on duty that it is difficult to translate that experience into transferable skills?

In his book, If Not Now, When?, Medal of Honor recipient Colonel Jack Jacobs (Ret.) says this of his move from the military into the financial world,

“In many ways, structuring and selling investments to institutions like banks, insurance companies and pension funds was very different from defending the county. But by almost every objective measure, it was easier to devise, buy and sell investments than to kill people … To an infantry soldier, determining the volatility of a derivative transaction or the risk-adjusted return of a large portfolio of mixed assets is far easier than devising a plan to destroy a well-entrenched battalion and then motivating a bunch of petrified twenty-year-olds to do it.”

The recent royal visit to Los Angeles highlighted the issue as William and Kate attended a job fair for veterans. Sponsored by organizations such as Bank of America, the USO and SHRM, is working to “solve the problem.”

With the diverse group of Women of HR across the country, what unique perspective do you have? Is there a solution in sight?

Photo credit iStockphoto

About the Author

Diane Prince Johnston

Diane Prince Johnston is an experienced entrepreneur with a background in staffing. Diane has participated in founding multiple companies; taking them from start-up ventures to purchase offerings resulting in owner exit strategies. Diane is a social media educator and speaker, volunteer mentor at JVS Los Angeles, job seeker advocate and career counselor. Diane enjoys beach living in Malibu with her 3 daughters and Havanese puppy. She loves to hike, write and read.


David Lee

@Niki – I would add one more thought. I think that with the automated databases used by companies to search resumes for keywords, jobs in the military don’t match. As a “Battalion Commander” I was in charge of 625 Soldiers. I’ve added “General Manager equivalent” to my resume to improve search results. It is hard for veterans and companies to translate experience into potential.

David Lee

“While the overall unemployment rate for veterans of all generations is 8.8%, for young veterans it was 13.3% in June.”

Pre-9/11 the veteran unemployment rate was lower than non-veterans. Veterans were recognized for their leadership experience. The statistic that is missing is veterans of all ages who have left the military in the last 10 years. With all the talk of PTSD I believe many that it has become a silent discriminator for all veterans even though less than 20% of veterans are diagnosed with PTSD.

Niki Watson

This is a serious issue! Our troops risk their lives for us but yet we don’t seem to understand how the skills they have learned through the military translate into the civilian work place. My organization cares passionately about this issue and we are developing transition solutions for vets. We are also offering free workshops and assistance through certain vet services. I believe this is a multi-layered issue – vets have trouble transitioning and figuring out where they should go next, they have limited training on building resumes and interviewing skills, employers aren’t sure how the military service fits into the work place, and there are limited services to assist vets in the transition itself. The job market is a difficult place right now but at least if we can support vets they will be better prepared. The leadership and collaboration skills our soldiers learn in the military are skills many civilians will never gain – employers should take notice!


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