Young military veterans saw little to celebrate in last week’s much cheered unemployment report. Data released the same day by the Department of Labor revealed that one in three young veterans was out of a job in the last quarter of 2011 — an employment picture even worse than a year earlier, when one in five couldn’t find work.
This rate is more double that of their civilian peers; the unemployment rate for all Americans age 18-24 actually decreased over the same time period.
“I definitely think it’s getting worse out there,” said Daniel Hutchison, 29, who started a one-man transition assistance group, Ohio Combat Veterans, last May. “Part of that has to do with the economy across the board. The unemployment rate is still high, and with veterans, it’s even more complicated.”
Veterans don’t always know how to translate their skills in the battlefield for employers back home. And while they look for work, they’re often battling post-traumatic stress disorder, which can be compounded, Hutchison said, by not finding a job.
“Veterans will sell themselves short. On their résumés, they’ll just say, ‘I was field artillery in Iraq for 16 months.’” Hutchison continued. “So I’ll say, ‘But you have leadership skills. How much training did you do? How many people did you manage?’ These are all attributes that these veterans have, but they can’t really see it.”
After five years in the U.S. Army, Hutchison returned home in 2007 expecting to pick up his previous construction job or something like it in the industry. But when he came back from Iraq, the housing bubble had popped.
“In today’s economy you can’t give away a house, so I was taking pretty much any little thing I could get,” he recalled. He had worked as a medic in the Army and thought that offered employment skills, but he didn’t hold any civilian certifications.
Hutchison now runs Ohio Combat Veterans by himself, with some donations and his own Army benefits. Since last May, he’s helped about 100 veterans — and they’ve helped him, too. “Just running this program was real therapeutic for me,” he said.
While organizations like Hutchison’s can be critical for catching veterans who have slipped through the cracks, some who focus on unemployment issues and veterans think the problem goes beyond PTSD and the difficulty of translating military skills for civilian employers.
Ted Daywalt, who runs VetJobs.com in Georgia, observes that most young unemployed veterans are part of the National Guard or the Reserves, and employers hesitate to hire them not because of weak résumés, but because of the increase in Pentagon calls for Reserve and Guard members to return to service. A new policy on call-ups implemented in 2007, combined with a law that requires companies to restore reservists to their jobs after they come home, means that employers are more reluctant than ever to hire veterans.
“An employer cannot run their business if their most critical asset, human capital, is being taken away for 12 to 24 months,” Daywalt said.
Some 180,000 people visit VetJobs.com every month, and they receive dozens of calls a day, Daywalt said. The most common plea, he continued, comes from a veteran in the Reserves or Guard who has just been called up and then suddenly finds himself laid off, with his employer blaming the pressures of the weak economy. According to Daywalt, who is a Vietnam-era veteran and a reservist for 21 years, some 65 to 70 percent of employers won’t hire from the National Guard or the Reserves, even though this type of discrimination is illegal.
“Employers would prefer to hire someone out of the military, but they’re called up so frequently, no one wants to hire them,” he said. “As a reservist, I get real upset. But when I put on my CEO hat, I totally understand why they’re doing it.”
Daywalt has testified before Congress multiple times on the subject and is firm on this point: Veterans who are not part of the Reserves or the National Guard typically find work, he said. But unless there is a change in the call-up policy, he expects unemployment for young veterans to keep rising.
“In 2007 in a hearing at Congress, I said the unemployment rate is going to go up to 20 percent, and people scoffed,” Daywalt recalled. “This year you’re going to see it go up to 50 or more percent.”