Young war veterans struggle to find jobs

By Debbie Gregory.

Nearly 1 million service members are expected to leave the military and enter the workplace over the next five years. But translating that military experience into civilian lingo is proving to be tough, and may be part of the cause of a drop in veteran employment.

“The vast majority of people in this country didn’t serve,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Civilians just don’t get what vets did in the military. It can seem like vets were beamed down from Mars.”

On the battlefield, a veteran may have commanded dozens of soldiers, made split-second, life or death decisions and shown textbook leadership qualities. However, that doesn’t fit neatly onto a civilian resume. And even if it did, more veterans making the transition from military life to the civilian workforce wouldn’t know how to phrase it.

“That person might have led 12 men in Afghanistan,” said Kevin Schmiegel, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes. “He built schools, negotiated with tribal warlords, oversaw millions of dollars in equipment. The world should be his oyster. But we can’t look at that title and think that the only job he’s well-suited for is as a security guard. And if we do have that mentality, what does that say about our country?”

The job market is already a tough place for nonveterans to find work. Veteran jobs are even tougher to find as veterans struggle to sell themselves to employers and overcome the stigma of PTSD. Officials say younger veterans are having the hardest time finding work.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics report for 2012 states that the unemployment rate for veterans ages 25 to 34 is 10.6 percent, and a whopping 20.4 percent for the 18-to-24 age group. Those numbers were much higher than the civilian figures of 8.2 percent for those 25 to 34, and 15 percent for the 18-to-24 group..

Hiring Our Heroes, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce program, has staged 490 job fairs since March 2011, resulting in more than 18,400 veterans and military spouses finding work. Schmiegel, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, said that while their goal is to introduce employers to the talent pool, veterans must close the deal.

“This isn’t charity,” he said. “We can help show veterans where the jobs are and how to broaden themselves. But once they have the tools, then it’s up to them.”