ByDavid W. Walker, President and CEO, Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes
One of the biggest worries facing military veterans when they leave active service is finding productive opportunities in the private sector, a challenge which has long been recognized as a major hurdle for many of them. However, recent data suggest that concern is out of date.
Vets are taking full advantage of the current vigorous labor market. In fact, according to the most July report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans as of August is 3.2 percent, significantly lower than the 3.7 percent rate for the overall working age population.
There are many reasons for this. The first of course is that overall unemployment is at an historic low. Generally speaking, people who want jobs can find them. Sometimes they must relocate to take advantage of them, but that has always been true.
Another reason is that this hot job market has forced many employers to beat the bushes for workers, and more than a few of the people who are in those bushes are there for a reason. Some years ago when I worked for the National Association of Manufacturers, I asked a senior executive from one of our premier companies why his firm was exporting manufacturing to other countries. “Because,” he said, “the young people coming out of our public schools in this country today cannot pass a reading test, a writing test, a math test or a drug test.”
You don’t run into that problem with veterans. Whatever basic skills they lacked when they signed up are in their knapsacks now. Nor do the military services put up with drug abuse. Best of all, veterans have no problem getting out of bed in the morning and showing up for work on time, nor do they balk when given instructions. They come with a built-in work ethic.
Even vets with conspicuous wounds are finding jobs. My organization, the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes, helps wounded veterans find jobs in the private sector, and we get positive cooperation from business. I can add also that precious few businesses are concerned that some candidates are missing arms or legs, or bear the scars left by explosions. Those are badges of courage. They serve to remind us of the cost our heroes have paid for our freedom, and we all need reminding on a regular basis.
The great majority of veterans have a solid work ethic and are comfortable with advanced digital technology. If all that weren’t enough to commend them, there are numerous programs in force to encourage the hiring of veterans. For example, the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 extended federal tax credits for companies hiring returning veterans and those disabled in service. These credits run through the end of this year and may be renewed.
In addition, about $166 million is allotted to communities filling law enforcement jobs with post-911 veterans, and another $320 million goes to fire departments committed to hiring veterans. A full $1 billion is earmarked to fund 20,000 opportunities for veterans to work on conservation of federal and state lands. More than 30 states have joined in a program to allow military training and experience to count for licensing and for college credits. A host of other programs and incentives are available to businesses and other entities that hire veterans.
All of this adds up and helps forge a work environment that is receptive to veterans, including wounded veterans. It is true that some of the veterans suffering from severe post-traumatic stress face a uniquely tough hurdle adapting to the stresses of the modern workplace, but even they are making progress. The biggest challenge many of them face is getting away from the drug therapy prescribed by many doctors which aggravates their problem. There is no question that holding down a regular job – with all of the duties and headaches that entails – is the best possible therapy for victims of post-traumatic stress. We all need to work; it defines our sense of self-worth.
In sum, this Labor Day offers a great opportunity to put a spotlight on our nation’s labor force which includes almost 20 million veterans. It is doing very well indeed and the need for labor has come as a welcome lift to disabled veterans seeking productive places in the civilian workforce. It couldn’t happen to a better bunch of people.