Job Hunting a Major Challenge for our Veterans
Unemployment rate for wounded veterans is estimated in double digits
With the economy in dire straits, The job market is tightening and it’s just not like the good ole days. I mean picture this, you’re a disabled veteran having to deal with your injuries and reconnecting with civilian life while juggling resume writing, retraining and networking and it makes the hunt 100 times more difficult. Basically, that challenge many wounded veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan must deal with and face.
Thanks to the lastest medical advances, soldiers are now able to survive devastating injuries that may have killed them in previous wars. This little discussed fact is creating a large pool of disabled veterans looking for jobs once they return home. They are also struggling with hidden disabilities such as traumatic brain injuries and mental health issues which create a silent challenge.
According to the latest stats from Department of Veterans Affairs, there are a total of about 869,000 veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and about 225,00 are collecting disability benefits.
“Disabled Veterans 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. There is no sign of relief says Rieckhoff.
Rieckhoff further adds that the government and corporate America are not doing enough to help the men and women who were injured in combat to find job training and job opportunities.
According to the Department of Labor, the jobless rate as of 2007 for veterans returning from these recent wars is 6.1 percent, nearly 2 percentage points higher than non-military population. While the jobless rates among disabled and non-disabled veteran is about even, only 81.8 percent of disabled Iraq and Afghanistan vets are active job holders or jobseekers compared with 90.7 percent of veterans without a disability.
Rieckhoff says the low participation rate among disabled veterans is a function of their circumstances. While some will never be able to hold down a job because their disabilities may be too severe, others don’t know where to turn for help.
“In general the VA has done a poor job of setting our veterans up for the job market,” he explains.
While the VA is not an employment agency, it does offer vocational programs to help injured Veterans find new occupations, said VA spokesman Jim Benson. The VA also operates about 220 centers throughout the United States that offer counseling and links to employment services, he says.
Understanding employers are key to helping these disabled vets get back into the work world.
“With the right assistance and support, a wounded vet can do anything,” says Ryan Kules with The Wounded Warrior Project, an injured vet advocacy group.
Kules, who lost an arm and leg in Iraq, is now helping disabled vets reintegrate into the workplace. “There are jobs they thought they’d never be able to do, and these things need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. But with help like special software, or just a bit more time to do things, they can go back to work,” he adds.
“These are highly talented individuals,” says Carol Hartnett, a health and disability expert with The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., which recently teamed up with The Wounded Warrior Project to host the “Beyond the Battlefield” leadership summit, a conference to help wounded vets improve their leadership and networking skills. “I have worked with well over 100 veterans. I can tell you these people have developed on battlefield skill sets that are critical for success in business.”
The company even provides a free guide for employers called: “Workplace Warriors: The Corporate Response to Deployment and Reintegration.”
Her advice to both employers and wounded veterans is to accept the disability and focus on the abilities.
Other organizations besides The Hartford are looking to help disabled vets find jobs and careers.
Magy Barroso, HR Manager at Pinkerton Government Services says that they reach out and are willing to provide education and training to help get those veterans who need up to speed in the corporate world.
In addition, some universities and schools are stepping up to the plate.
The University of Idaho created the “Operation Education Scholarship” program two years ago to provide disabled veterans seeking a college degree with full financial assistance. “We want them to not have to work and graduate from school without debt,” explains Karen White, chair of the program.
Sessions Online, an Internet-based school for graphic design, just announced it’s offering scholarships for injured vets that will cover 100 percent of courses “for graphic and Web design, as well as Apple iMac computers and professional-level design software,” according to a spokeswoman.
Disabled vets should also check out the Department of Labor’s Recovery & Employment Assistance Lifelines (REALifelines) program, which launched in 2004.
Michael Biddle, an agency spokesman, said 7,040 disabled service members and their families have received employment assistance through the program, which offers job counseling and job training.