11/10/2010 10:42 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's Time that We Mobilized Support for U.S. Veterans

Each year in the United States Veterans Day presents a great opportunity to stop for a moment and appreciate the contribution and sacrifices made by U.S. military veterans for their country.

As I reflected on our veterans there were a number of statistics that jumped out:
  • Since 9/11 over 1,900,000 veterans have returned to civilian life.
  • 190,000 of those veterans are unemployed.
  • The rate of unemployment among U.S. veterans has jumped from 6.1 percent to 10.7 percent in the past four years.
  • U.S. veterans are 20 percent more likely to be unemployed than a civilian counterpart.

These are sobering statistics.

It was one of the things that got us thinking about how we could do a better job in supporting veterans. We wondered whether we might be able to extend our Elevate America program, which is focused on helping people access the technology skills they need to find employment. The problem was we were not experts on either the challenges facing veterans or what would help them to successfully make the leap to civilian employment.

That is why, just under a year ago, Microsoft gathered a group of experts to start a series of discussions about the specific issues and challenges facing our nation's veterans, particularly concerning the transition to the civilian workforce. We suspected that veterans had a different set of requirements.

We were right.

Last month, we reconvened this original group, plus six additional organizations at our headquarters in Redmond, Washington, to talk about how we can put what we've learned into action. It was both heartwarming to hear how these organizations are facing up to the challenge to support our returning veterans but also concerning when you hear the challenges they face. The discussion centered on what we could do that supports veterans in a tangible and real way. The result is the Elevate America veterans initiative.

We have been fortunate to work with an advisory group -- the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), The American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, United Service Organizations (USO), and the Wounded Warrior Project -- who were able to bring the benefit of their direct experience with veterans across the country into our planning around this program. The veterans initiative goes beyond our existing Elevate America programs because it couples technology skills training with ancillary services such as career counseling, job placement, childcare, transportation, and housing services.

Today, we are proud to announce result of this work. There are six nonprofit recipients of our Elevate America veterans initiative grants who will provide education, job training and placement programs to give veterans and their spouses the skills and resources they need to be successful in today's civilian work force. Through these grants, Microsoft is providing $2 million in cash and up to $6 million in software and information technology (IT) skills training curriculum to the following organizations:

  • Able-Disabled Advocacy, Inc., San Diego, CA; San Diego VetWORKS
  • Bellevue College, Bellevue, WA; Project Succeed
  • Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont Inc, Charlotte, NC; Elevate America's veterans initiative
  • Gulf Coast Workforce Board, Panama City, FL; Mission: 21st Century (M:21c)
  • Per Scholas INC., New York, NY; Microsoft Veterans Employment Project
  • Veterans Inc., Worcester, MA; Veterans Inc. Employment & Training Program

Each of these organizations and their partners represent a unique program and service model, serving veterans and spouses across the country. Together, we hope that we can learn best practices, share models that work well and ultimately help scale these efforts broadly to meet the needs of the thousands of veterans and spouses who could benefit from this type of support.

Supporting our military veterans in the transition to civilian life is a huge challenge. We know that. However, we hope as we approach Veterans Day that this program can go a small way towards recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of our veterans and perhaps raise awareness of the challenges they face. I think we can all agree they deserve all the support we can provide.

We're hosting a weeklong celebration of U.S. Veterans this week on our website, sharing stories, resources and opinions. If you have a few moments I'd love you to take a look.