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Working Toward Economic Prosperity For Our Veterans

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By Major General Lee Baxter, USA (Retired), Senior Military Advisor to the George W. Bush Institute

The lingering issues related to United States unemployment are markedly more severe for Gulf War Era (post-9/11) veterans than for any other category of former service men and women, and for the unemployed population at large. According to October 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, while overall unemployment is at 8%, and the rate for veterans of all conflicts is near 6.3%, for Gulf War Era II veterans, unemployment has remained at 10.2%. It is even worse for younger veteran (ages 20-24) who served in the Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and/or the Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) conflicts. Their unemployment rate is at 14.5%, nearly 2.5% higher than the general population nationwide in the age category. Additionally, of the more than 200,000 unemployed post-9/11 veterans age 20 and over, nearly 60% have been out of work for nearly four months. It is a national embarrassment to us all - those who execute the will of the nation militarily cannot find meaningful work at home, often after multiple combat tours in some of the most dangerous places in the world.

If there is good news, it may be that the problem has clearly been recognized and national, state, non-profit and private efforts are endeavoring to find viable solutions for our heroes and their families. For example, the Veteran's Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) offers up to 12 months of training assistance to unemployed veterans. Participants who attend on a full time basis receive up to one year of assistance equal to full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill - Active Duty Program (currently nearly $1,600 per month).

Now, through the leadership of President George W. Bush, the George W. Bush Institute has undertaken efforts to honor U.S. service members who have defended America's freedom in the global war on terror. The Military Service Initiative unites the efforts of individuals, businesses, non-profits and universities to find solutions that improve the well-being of veterans who served in OIF and OEF. The Bank of America Charitable Foundation has partnered with Bush Institute through a $1 million grant to help fund the Military Service Initiative and will support the Circles of Excellence program which will spotlight and support organizations that fulfill the needs of veterans.

Through the Military Service Initiative, the Bush Institute will seek solutions to critical issues that affect post-9/11 veterans including housing, education, wellness and support for military families. But none of these can be more important or more urgent than the need to provide economic opportunity through both jobs and long term professional opportunities for our men and women returning from multiple deployments in and around combat operations. Jobs represent hope and a promise for the future.

While there are literally thousands of non-profits directing their efforts to the well being of veterans from the post Gulf War era, several of those focused directly on jobs are producing real results and making a difference in the lives of many. We would like to take a moment to recognize them here:

American Corporate Partners (ACP): ACP is dedicated to assisting veterans in their transition from the armed services to the civilian workforce through free mentoring, career counseling, and networking opportunities. Founded in 2008 with the support of several participating institutions, ACP offered corporate mentoring to 150 service members. Some four years later, ACPs mentoring program has served more than 1,500 veterans, National Guardsmen and Reservists with the help of volunteer mentors from 40 participating institutions, including such notables as Accenture, American Airlines, AT&T, Boeing, Verizon and Wells Fargo, among others. This great program is available to current and former service members who have served on active duty since 2001, as well as the spouses of soldiers wounded or killed in action. Mentors and their mentees communicate frequently by e-mail, phone and video-conferencing.

Hiring our Heroes: An effort under the umbrella of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Hiring our Heroes is a nationwide initiative to help veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment through a network of 1600 State and local Chambers. In a short 18 months, Hiring our Heroes has hosted nearly 400 hiring fairs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But more importantly, through these fairs, more than 14,000 veterans and military spouses have found employment and ended their search with the outlook of a bright future. Building on these successes, in March 2012 the U.S. Chamber and Capitol One launched the "Hiring 500,000 Heroes" campaign to engage the business community in committing to hire a half million veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014. Thus far, more than 800 businesses of all sizes nationwide have pledged to hire more than 182,000 heroes toward that goal, and more than 84,000 hires by employers have already been confirmed. That is progress.

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF): An arm of Syracuse University, the IVMF reflects the university's commitment to leverage the intellectual, human, and social capital of higher education, in service to America's veterans and their families post-service. This remarkable Institute has evolved five separate programs for veterans and military spouses, each unique, innovative and effective. The "Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities" focuses on post 9-11 vets with service connected disabilities; the "Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veteran Families" provides focused training for family members and caregivers to wounded veterans, surviving spouses of those who lost their lives in service to our country, and spouses of active duty military; the "Veteran Women Ignite the Spirit of Entrepreneurship" program for women vets, female spouses and partners and transitioning active duty women from any branch of service; the "Endure and Grow" program for National Guard and Reserve members and their families; and the "Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup" program, for those service members currently in transition. All programs are relevant, timely, and teach veterans and families the skills necessary to be successful in education, work and life.

In the months and years ahead, the George W. Bush Institute intends to play a major role in finding the solutions for the employment dilemma of our veterans, as well as the other issues most critical to the well being of this distinctly American treasure, the service member and family. Continuing to highlight the great work of non-profit organizations sharing our zeal for helping and supporting veterans will be an ongoing priority.

Major General Lee Baxter, USA (Retired) is the Senior Military Advisor to the George W. Bush Institute. Follow the Bush Center on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheBushCenter