With one debate down and only 28 days to go until the election, it's time the candidates get serious about veterans issues. Last week, President Obama and Governor Romney squared off, but when it came to our newest veterans, the silence was deafening. If care and support for the 20 million vets in America is not a domestic policy issue, what is?
We're hoping Thursday's vice presidential debate goes a bit differently.
2.4 million of those veterans are now transitioning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and they deserve smart policy and true dedication -- especially in the face of high unemployment. Last week, the BLS released the September jobs report, and once again, the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is above the national average. While the national employment rate was 7.8 percent, our nation's newest veterans face a tougher job market with unemployment at 9.7 percent. According to the BLS, 202,000 new veterans were unemployed in the month of September.
Monthly unemployment numbers tend to fluctuate because of the small BLS sample size, and nowhere is this more clear than when examining the post-9/11 female veteran unemployment rate. While new female vets faced a whopping 19.9 percent unemployment rate in September, in July the rate was 5.9 percent -- more than 2 points lower than the July national average. These fluctuations demonstrate the challenge of having a very small sample tell the employment story of 2.4 million post-9/11 veterans.
When it comes to veterans, we need more than "thank you for your service." Candidates must pledge to address the systemic issues that create barriers to entering the civilian workforce. With the first debate question focusing on job creation, from the gate both candidates missed an opportunity to show veterans that they would fight the battle against consistently high unemployment.
Employment resources, like TAP, should be available to vets throughout their careers, not just at separation. For Guard and Reservists who straddle the civil-military workforces, we must work to protect their civilian jobs by working to strengthen and extend USERRA. The nation has invested billions of dollars training service members, but their valuable skills fall on the deaf ears of civilian hiring managers who haven't served. Despite their years of military experience in specific jobs -- such as medics -- they lack certifications or licenses that are required to work in their local communities.
No veteran should come home to an unemployment check. Candidates need to do more, and all Americans need to demand answers on how they plan to support new veterans and their families -- on jobs and other critical issues. Last week, IAVA released a guide to help Americans cast smart votes to support vets -- with issue summaries and checklists on the five most critical challenges facing the New Greatest Generation. You can use the guide to ask candidates at all levels tough questions -- let them know what our community is looking for at the ballot box on November 6th.
Cross posted on IAVA.org.