Veterans Return To Bleak Job Market

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Washington Post
April 1, 2008
Pg. D1
Federal Diary
By Stephen Barr
Finding a job is turning out to be a very tough challenge for returning veterans; harder than for civilians of similar age and education.
Eighteen percent of the veterans recently back from tours of duty are unemployed. Of those employed since leaving the military, 25 percent earn less than $21,840 a year, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The data come from a survey of 1,941 veterans who left the military between December 2004 and January 2006. The survey is in line with Census Bureau and other data that indicate employment rates and wages are lower for troops returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones than their civilian peers.
"Transitioning back into employment, education, and/or training after completing military service can be challenging for some military personnel," the study says, adding that "it is vital" for the VA to better understand the programs and services it provides.
The survey was conducted for the VA by a consultant, who sent an analysis to the department last year. The survey findings have not been released by the VA but have been obtained by groups that advocate on behalf of veterans. They were reported by the Wall Street Journal last week.
VA spokesman Matt Smith said the VA, Defense Department and Labor Department "are working together to review the data provided in the report, interpret the data, consider what implications the data may have on programs administered by our departments, and determine what further research, if any, may be necessary."
He said the VA intends to release the report after the internal review is finished.
According to the survey, 48.4 percent of the respondents said they took advantage of the GI Bill, which provides up to $1,000 a month for 36 months for veterans who enroll in colleges or other education programs.
But the survey findings also raised questions about whether the GI Bill paid off in terms of higher income or a better job.
"Unfortunately, we found that receiving the GI Bill was not a strong predictor of successful employment outcomes such as high earnings, responsibility in civilian work and placement in senior management," the study says.
Even those using the GI Bill may not be competitive in the labor market. Private-sector personnel officials, for example, reported that many veterans "were not prepared to market themselves to the business environment -- they did not seem to understand the culture and expectations; thus were not career ready," the study says.
In general, returning military personnel often have trouble finding jobs that match their military occupations.
"Protective services," such as security and police work, and facilities and maintenance repair were the most popular occupations held by former enlisted personnel, the report says.
The survey respondents said they used the Internet, personal and professional contacts, newspaper ads and federal job listings to seek employment.
Compared to their peers, veterans are more likely to work for the government and less likely to work for a private-sector business or to be self-employed, according to Census data used in the study.
But many employers are not aware of the skills, especially in technology, held by former military personnel, the study says.
It recommended that the government look at new ways, including marketing campaigns, to help veterans find jobs in the private sector. "Education and training programs, such as the GI Bill, may need to be redesigned to maximize the transfer value of military experiences and enable internships and contract work that connects service members to career opportunities," the study says.
The VA has stepped up its efforts, offering employment services such as Coming Home to Work. The program provides job opportunities and work experience for personnel leaving the armed forces because of medical reasons.
But Vanessa Williamson, policy director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said she was concerned by the survey's finding of an 18 percent unemployment rate for military personnel discharged in the last three years.
"Any American would agree that we need to support our troops and our veterans, but what level of support are we talking about when people coming back from war have low-income jobs and are struggling to make ends meet," Williamson said. "That doesn't sound like support to me."