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Combat Vets Having Tough Time In Job Market

Rick Maze – Army Times – September 12, 2009

The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 21 percent higher than the rate for all Americans, a sign of trouble for newly separated or retired service members looking for work in a tight job market.

A Labor Department report shows an unemployment rate of 11.3 percent for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in July, up from 5.9 percent one year ago and well above the 9.7 percent overall U.S. unemployment rate — itself the highest in 26 years.

To put that in another perspective, the number of out-of-work but job-seeking Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is at 185,000 — just 9,000 fewer than the number of troops deployed to those two combat operations, said Justin Brown of Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Brown said he is unsure why the jobless rate has jumped for recent combat veterans, but he said separating service members may find it especially difficult to get work in a job market that has few openings and a lot of competition.

"A 22-year-old getting out of the service right now has networks of friends and family who are not employment networks," Brown said. "The primary way they are finding jobs are those listed in the paper or on the Web, and those are the hardest jobs to get because that's where there is the most competition."

Discrimination against veterans does not appear to be an issue, Brown said.

"I have seen nothing or heard nothing that would indicate employers are unwilling to hire veterans," he said.

The government can and should be doing more to help, Brown said, by strengthening transition classes for separating and retiring service members to give them better job-hunting skills and by ensuring veterans have a fighting chance to get new jobs created by federal tax dollars.

Because the stimulus package granted money directly to states, some rules for federally funded projects that would have helped veterans do not apply, such as certain preferential hiring rules and requirements to ensure veterans employment services are notified of openings.

Brown noted that Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., tried without success to get veterans preferences added to the stimulus package.