The state of the economy is a well-known story these days and the unemployment rate is just one indicator of the trouble. Unemployment rates linger around 8.3 percent (as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS] on March 9 for February 2012). The number of long-term unemployed (classified as those unemployed for 27 weeks or more) remained unchanged in February, hovering at 5.4 million people (approximately 43 percent of the total unemployed). The statistics related to unemployment among America’s veterans, however, are especially troubling.
According to a March 20 report from the BLS, for those veterans serving active-duty since 2001 (known as the Gulf War-era II veterans) the unemployment rate was 12.1 percent in 2011. The jobless rate for all veterans was 8.3 percent, comparable to that of the US population as a whole. The BLS report points out that 26 percent of Gulf War-era II veterans reported a service related disability in August 2011 while only 14 percent of all veterans reported the same. There can be little doubt from these statistics that America’s bravest men and women, those who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the nation’s safety, have come home to a bleak employment situation.
Unemployment among veterans has been a persistent problem. In a 1972 report of the National Advisory Council on Vocational Education, Chairman Lawrence Davenport encouraged “an all-out national effort” to address the “crisis” of unemployment among returning Vietnam veterans (during a time of otherwise relatively high general unemployment). In another era of high unemployment, America’s veterans are returning home to face seemingly insurmountable obstacles in finding meaningful employment. It is encouraging, however, to see that some organizations are taking this collective responsibility as their own and working to make a difference in the lives of our military men and women and their families.
On March 21, Aon and Wounded Warrior Project hosted their 4th Annual Salute to America’s Wounded Warriors at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, Virginia. Approximately 45 wounded veterans had the opportunity to meet with recruiters from more than 60 companies with open positions and a commitment to supporting the nation’s veterans. In addition to the veterans in attendance, a handful of military spouses also participated. Without question, military spouses and families make a tremendous sacrifice as well as their loved one in uniform and we should support their achievement as well. While I was not at this event, I asked several American Public University System (APUS) recruiters and staff to participate. They reported back that they were impressed by the high quality of the candidates they met.
The recruiters who were in attendance tell me that during his opening remarks (prior to the actual meetings between potential employers and participants), Aon Director of Human Resources, Dave Dahler, announced that one veteran had already been offered a position with Morgan Stanley. Once the meetings started, recruiters moved around the room, stopping at veterans’ tables to discuss potential opportunities (a sort of “reverse career fair”). Recruiters jockeyed for position in line at many of the veterans’ tables and it was clear that both groups saw tremendous mutual benefit in the event.
Those who attended the event related some of the opening remarks of Aon Board Member, retired four-star general of the US Air Force, and 15th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers. General Myers quoted George Washington who said (paraphrasing) during the Revolutionary War that we must take care of our veterans in order to ensure that they continue to fight for the nation. Washington’s remarks ring as true today as they did in the days of the nation’s founding. He also recounted the treatment of veterans returning home from the nation’s foreign wars. He explained the experiences of Vietnam veterans returning from war to an economy nearly as stagnant as the current one. Though both groups of veterans are returning from war, from risking their lives, to an unwelcoming economic situation, today’s veterans have a benefit over those who served three decades ago. Today’s veterans are returning home to a nation that while perhaps divided over the political reasons associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are collectively proud of their men and women in uniform and eager to assist their transition to civilian life.
Events like the one that Aon and Wounded Warrior Project hosted in Arlington are evidence that despite the unfortunate economic situation, many corporations and organizations are throwing their efforts behind supporting our returning veterans and “wounded warriors.” I would like to applaud Aon as well as the Wounded Warrior Project for their commitment to America’s veterans. I would also like to thank the companies who participated alongside APUS to provide employment opportunities to those who are arguably our nation’s most deserving.
(To see some photos from the event, visit Callie Hardman’s photography blog.)