While the country seethes over the 9.1 percent unemployment rate, post-9/11 veterans contend with one that's jumped to 12.4 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Friday. As deterring as that statistic is, it's projected to worsen once 10,000 servicemen return from Afghanistan and 46,000 come home from Iraq by year's end, the L.A. Times reports.
While those who serve their country are often promised saleable skills and job opportunities they wouldn't have access to otherwise, the reality is that veterans often feel discriminated against and overlooked in the workplace.
The evidence is in the numbers.
From 2008 to 2011, the veteran unemployment rose 5.1 percentage points, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"We returned to the Unites States in December 2010 and were assured that we were not going to be forgotten," wrote Jeff Hartine, an Afghanistan veteran, in an op-ed piece in the Baltimore Sun. "Eight months later, I find myself still applying, still waiting for a job offer. Tragically, I'm not alone in the unemployment lines, and like hundreds of thousands of others, I wait for something to shake loose while feeling forgotten."
The reasons why service members who risk their lives to protect democracy are fending for their economic survival back at home are numerous.
Even when jobseekers look for work in areas that embrace the military, they can still face wary employers. Thomas Jones, 25, served four years in the Marines and now lives in Hampton Roads--home to major Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Coast Guard installations Reuters reports, yet he's still had to settle for a menial, low-paying retail job.
"Jarhead, that's what we're called," Jones told Reuters. "A lot of people are like 'Oh, you're a jarhead, you've got nothing in there. All you know how to do is fight.'"
Abbas Malik, 27, who worked as a marksman in Iraq, guarding the Green Zone, shared a similar sentiment with Metro. "They see my resume and they're like, 'Oh you're a designated marksman,' and they just have this face," he said. "They probably assume that I'm unstable."
These veterans likely aren't just paranoid.
Sixty-percent of hiring organizations polled in a June 2010 Society for Human Resource Management survey said that translating military skills to a civilian job experience could pose a challenge in hiring veterans and 46 percent said the same about hiring those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.
"There is a sense of abandonment," Daniel Nichols, former chief of staff for the Labor Department's Veteran Employment and Training Services, shared with Reuters. He now works as the director of Military to Medicine, which trains veterans and their spouses to get jobs in the healthcare industry.
While the Defense Department claims that 88 percent of military jobs have "direct civilian counterparts," Reuters reports, most states require veterans to register for lengthy and burdensome training classes before they can take on comparable positions at home. Malik, for example, has been futilely trying to get a job as a security guard while he pursues a political science degree at the College of Staten Island, he lamented to Metro.
"I operated machine guns in Baghdad, but I can't have a flashlight at MSG [Madison Square Garden]," Malik said.
Political leaders, such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), hope to help veterans to circumvent these extraneous trainings with waivers.
"Agencies also need to find ways to eliminate bureaucratic barriers that prevent veterans who already have relevant skills and technical training learned from the military from landing similar jobs in the civilian workforce," Gillibrand stated in the Epoch Times. "For example, a veteran who drove an ambulance in Iraq should be able to come home and be able to drive an ambulance for New York City. Right now there's a lot of paperwork, and you have to be entirely recertified."
While there are a number of job-placement agencies catering to veterans specifically, 60 percent of hiring organizations polled by the Society of Human Resource Management reported that they didn't know about them. "More communication is needed to get the word out among employers about resources such as the Tip of the Arrow Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Program that can help organizations find qualified job applicants among those returning from military service," said SHRM about its January survey.
So, while the Warriors to Work program, an organization that offers veterans free help with every step of the job search, recently celebrated placing 100 clients, if mainstream organizations don't know where to turn to identify eligible veterans, then they won't be able to help reduce the abysmal unemployment rate.
While the unemployment numbers are bleak, the government continues to pursue programs and legislation that may help veterans get back on their feet.
President Barak Obama is scheduled on Friday to announce his initiative to challenge the private sector to hire 100,000 veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013, ABC reports. He is slated to also propose extending tax credits for wounded warriors and service members returning from war.
Gillibrand recently co-sponsored The Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, which would require service members leaving their posts to take job-search training through the federal government's Transition Assistance Program. The program is currently optional and up to one-third of veterans don't take advantage of it, according to the Daily News.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a website connecting veterans to employers and the Chamber of Commerce established Hiring Our Heroes in March, a year-long program that includes 100 jobs fairs aimed at helping veterans and their spouses, Reuters reports.
These programs may give veterans reason to feel optimistic, but until the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases numbers showing that they're getting jobs, these service members will likely continue to feel slighted by the country for which they served.
"I naively believed that my leadership training and experiences leading soldiers during wartime would translate into a civilian job," Hartine shared with the Baltimore Sun. "Americans, by vast majorities, say that they support the troops, and while we appreciate the flags and the yellow ribbon bumper stickers, we echo Secretary of of Labor Hilda Solis when she said, 'If you own a business, the best way to thank a veteran is to hire one.'"