VA Strives to Find Jobs for Iraq, Afghanistan War Vets
By Rudi Williams
WASHINGTON– For young men and women fighting the war on terrorism, coming home in good health is a major goal, but coming home to a good job also is a primary concern, Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson said during a news conference today announcing a VA jobs program for transitioning servicemembers.
“Fulfilling the Commitment – Coming Home to Work” focuses on ensuring that servicemembers re-entering civilian life, particularly service-connected disabled veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, have access to a full range of resources to obtain and retain suitable employment, VA officials said.
The initiative will help efforts of federal, state and private-sector entities to address concerns over the high rate of unemployment among recently separated servicemembers, particularly ages 20 through 24, officials said.
Nicholson said 250,000 servicemembers leave active duty annually, “and we help them through … a wide array of programs, not least of which is our vocational and employment counseling service.” …
“But so far, we’ve seen about 100,000 of them that have come back from the theater in our health system, and we are sparing no effort there, of course, in providing the state-of-the-art health services that they need and that they deserve and that we provide,” Nicholson said.
VA is working closely with other government partners and private-sector organizations to stem the “alarming unemployment rate among this young cohort of returned veterans,” the secretary said.
Unemployment among veterans is about 15 percent, “or roughly three times what it is overall in our economy, which is just unacceptable,” Nicholson said.
VA statistics show that in the first quarter of 2005, the monthly average of unemployed veterans ages 20 to 24 was 43,000, up significantly from the 2004 monthly average of 33,000. Officials said that’s partly because most servicemembers seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the early stages of their military careers and possess limited transferable job skills or very little civilian work experience. They said unless something is done to better prepare these separating servicemembers for careers outside the military, the rate of unemployment for them will continue to rise.
“These people that have gone off to protect our way of life need to know that there’s an opportunity for work for them when they come home,” said Nicholson. “It’s also, of course, particularly acutely needed for those who are severely injured, resulting in having a handicap of some permanent nature when they come back. And they are among the priority of those that we’re concerned about.”
Nicholson said VA wants to make it easier for returning servicemembers to identify their own vocations to enhance their talent to find their calling. “We’re not here talking about a handout; we’re talking about a helping hand,” he emphasized.
The program is focusing on servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but Nicholson pointed out that the initiative is for all the 200,000 annually who take off uniforms and seek to enter the nation’s work force. Veterans make good employees, Nicholson said. “They’ve been through the regimen of basic training and specialty training.”
“They know what it’s like to salute somebody every morning, to take orders. They’ve subjected themselves to that,” he said. “They’ve subjected themselves to the rigor and the fear of going into a combat zone.”
The decorated combat veteran said some servicemembers have come out wounded, but they have honorable discharges. “So these people are job-ready,” he emphasized. “They have technical skills. They have a great work ethic. They are the beneficiaries of just some outstanding training and leadership that they’ve gotten in our military, and they’re the future of our economy.”