THE BLOG
11/11/2013 10:05 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Don't Take Away Public Service From Those Who Served

This weekend, department stores and mattress salesmen across the country offered deep discounts to lure customers into their stores on a weekend meant to celebrate the men and women who swore an oath to defend America from her enemies. It is a common refrain each year, but our veterans deserve better. We should all take time out from bargain shopping to remember their service and sacrifices.

Even after they have left service, our veterans continue their sacrifices. Recent unemployment numbers show that post-9/11 veterans have an unemployment rate of 10 percent, nearly 37 percent higher than the rate for civilians. All the yellow ribboned lapels and "support our troops" bumper stickers in America ring hollow when men and women who wore the uniform of their country can't find a job that supports a family.

Programs from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as state-based initiatives, have gone a long way towards tackling the problem of Veteran unemployment. For example, 88 percent of newly hired processors for disability claims at VA in 2012 were themselves Veterans. Such initiatives are necessary, but we need more of them.

The successes of these programs illustrate the importance of public service jobs. In spite of this, states, counties, municipalities and the federal government increasingly look to so-called "public-private partnerships" to perform everyday government services and rebuild America's crumbling infrastructure. Our country certainly needs to be rebuilt and private investment can work if contracts safeguard taxpayers and protect middle class jobs. Our public infrastructure is a key element of enduring economic growth and prosperity by creating good jobs to build, operate and maintain our facilities and to increase our national productivity. Publicly financed infrastructure meets those needs at the cheapest cost. We should make sure that any privately financed infrastructure remains controlled by the public to benefit all Americans and our diverse goals.

We should make sure that efforts to outsource important public services or use private investors to rebuild our infrastructure doesn't eliminate good middle class jobs held by veterans. These projects should also create new job opportunities for returning and unemployed veterans.

A report issued in March from the Department of Labor showed this in striking figures. In 2012, one third of all employed, service-disabled veterans worked in public service jobs. While 14 percent of nonveterans work in public service, a full quarter of post-9/11 veterans hold public service jobs. The federal government alone employs 14 percent of all post-9/11 vets, compared with two percent of nonveterans. In total, 34 percent of employed veterans with a disability work in federal state or local government.

Veterans recognize the importance of service, and governments recognize their commitment to it. When we eliminate public service careers through privatization, we're taking away the jobs that are helping vets reintegrate into civilian society at a time when these brave men and women are having a harder time than most finding employment.

Earlier this year, In the Public Interest released the Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda, a set of locally focused reforms that help taxpayers reclaim control of their communities. These common sense measures help ensure communities keep good paying jobs with reasonable benefits when corporations attempt to take control of services. Communities that wish to stand with those who served should add a Veterans Empowerment Agenda to the TEA. A vet agenda would assess the impact on veteran's jobs before a service is privatized and make those results publicly available. It would also create job opportunities and pathways for returning veterans to public service jobs -- a logical next step to Americans already deeply committed to serving us all.

With so many veterans in public service jobs and so many more in need of work, communities deserve to know when outsourcing will put more vets in the unemployment line.

This Veterans Day, let's remember the men and women who served bravely in uniform and renew our commitment to ensuring their prosperity after service. In so many public service careers across the country, veterans continue to serve us. The least we can do is protect their jobs.