Memorial Day Wish: Remembering Veterans by Battling Unemployment

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May 23, 2014

I was recently watching the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and ran into a story about Command Sergeant Major Martin Barreras, who died in a Texas hospital over the weekend from injuries sustained in an attack while serving in the Afghan province of Herat. He held one of the most coveted enlisted ranks in the Army.

Similar to the Centurion in the Roman Army, Command Sergeant Majors are highly experienced enlisted men charged with leading large units of troops into battle. There are only 3,700 soldiers who hold the rank, and Barreras was among the best. His long list of accomplishments includes leading a successful mission to rescue Jessica Lynch in the Iraq War.

Very true: Barreras was a bona fide war hero to all who served with him.

True grit

But it was something else that Brian Williams said during the piece that got me thinking:

It’s always been such valuable advice for employers in this country: If you have a job opening and need to get the job done, hire Command Sergeant Majors from the military because that’s what they do.”

However successful they are on the front lines, veterans do not always hit the ground running upon returning home, and it’s something that’s painfully obvious. As of 2013, the unemployment rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is 9 percent, and has been consistently higher than the national rate since 2008.

There are several reasons for this.

One is that veterans are simply not used to job-hunting in the traditional sense — resume writing skills are not needed in the military. Another is negative stereotypes — assuming a tour of duty means dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anger issues.

There is also the worry of acclimation  — when employers fear a clash between the military and business cultures. Sadly, returning from war carries a powerful stigma with it.

Getting the job

In the spirit of Memorial Day, we’ve compiled some links to the most useful resources that will help both employers and veterans get over this slump:

  • The White House Guide to Hiring Veterans – Organizations may be unaware that President Obama signed the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act in 2011, which gives businesses new tax credits for hiring veterans, along with extended training benefits for veterans aged 35-60. The guide provided by the White House Business Council outlines the provisions of the law in detail, as well as providing tips on recruiting, retaining, and interviewing veterans.
  • Veterans Employment Toolkit – Provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Employment Toolkit gives veterans several resources for writing resumes, translating military skills to the business world, and finding job openings in desired fields, with a special section focused on helping women veterans find work.
  • America’s Heroes at Work – The Bureau of Labor provides a similar toolkit for employers, helping them to develop or enhance well-rounded veteran hiring initiatives in the workplace. It combines best practices from several sources to simplify the veteran hiring process in a user-friendly step-by-step guide.

United We Stand

This Memorial Day when we honor the ultimate sacrifice of veterans like Command Sgt. Maj. Barreras, let’s also extend a hand to those who are unemployed and struggling back home, and let them know that they are not forgotten.