vets.jpgJob stimulus proposals don’t get a lot of support these days even though there are 14 million people out of work and a jobless rate of 9.1 percent. But maybe people would think differently if they considered the men and women who sacrificed their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I don’t know if you heard, but 33,000 of them will be heading home in the next year and they’ll be heading into one of the worse job markets in decades, a job market that’s even crummier for them.

The unemployment rate for veterans of the Gulf War, including those who served from September 2001 until today, is now 12.1 percent, up from 10.6 percent in May of last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the numbers for younger male vets between ages 18 and 24 are even worse, about 21 percent joblessness; not to mention those coming home with injuries. About 25 percent of these veterans report having some sort of disability as a result of recent wars, much higher than the 13 percent among all veterans.

Thanks to medical advances, soldiers are able to survive devastating injuries that may have killed them in previous wars, experts say, and that’s creating a large pool of disabled vets looking for jobs once they return home. They are also struggling with hidden disabilities, such as traumatic brain injuries and mental health issues.

“Disabled vets have a lot of unique challenges, and they have a hard time finding jobs,” says Paul Rieckhoff, executive director with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

He estimates that the jobless rate among his 100,000 members is in the double digits, with no sign of relief.

Often times vets whether disabled or not, especially those who enlisted at a young age and have little private sector work experience, have a tough time adjusting to civilian life again and finding jobs. And vets who left jobs behind to go off to war sometimes come back and find their jobs are gone, even though there are laws that are supposed to fight against such actions.

President Obama’s announcement last night that thousands of vets will be returning home was good news for many people out there, but it could end up a recipe for disaster for the many more military men and women that will be returning home if they can’t find work.

“I think that there is the potential for some upside in 2011 hiring, but overall the trend remains very poor for veterans when directly compared with their civilian counterparts,” said Chad Storlie, author of “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader: 20 Lessons to Advance Your Civilian Career.”

There are high hurdles they face when it comes to finding a job, everything from discrimination from prospective employers to not being able to drop the “Yes-Sir” mentalities once they take off their uniforms. And vets have to find the right place and right job for them.

But employers also have to be ready and willing to hire vets, but right now most aren’t willing to really hire anyone even though the economy seems to be turning around a bit.

“I think that the industries are where veterans can translate their time well such as the Veteran Green Job program in Denver, CO; Emergency Management Services (Police, Fire, EMT, Disaster, etc); Defense Companies and Government Positions requiring security clearances, and Customer Service/Call Center where leadership and planning are important,” said Storlie. “Additionally, now is a great time to use GI Bill for graduate and undergraduate education since, with the high unemployment rate, opportunity cost is so low.”

Even with a diploma in hand, however, finding work may still be a tough go since there aren’t enough jobs to go around with about four job seekers for every job right now.

The Democrats in the Senate are talking job stimulus again and the President’s troop withdrawal news may add some fuel to the fire. Also, a bill introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, called the “Hiring Heroes Act of 2011,” would expand a federal program to help vets find jobs.

This from the Navy Times:

Murray wants transition assistance courses — aimed at preparing service members for civilian life — to be mandatory, a policy not now uniformly applied. In addition to set courses for everyone, she also wants each veteran to get an individualized assessment of the civilian jobs that best relate to his experience and education.

Defense Department and Labor Department officials have talked of an upcoming overhaul in transition workshops that would incorporate some of the changes Murray would mandate in her bill.

Once veterans leave the service, additional help in finding a job typically comes only to those who ask for it. Murray wants the government to be more aggressive. Her bill calls for the Labor Department, which has a veterans’ employment service, to periodically contact veterans to see if they are employed and if they need more help.

For disabled veterans, Murray proposes providing an additional 24 months of vocational rehabilitation and employment services for those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits and already received prior vocational and rehabilitative help.

No matter which side you’re on in the political debate over the war, there’s no denying that a regular paycheck and a fulfilling job will help our soldiers make a smoother reentry into civilian life. So let’s welcome them back with job opportunities not ticker tape.tape.jpg

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