06/20/2013 11:10 am ET Updated Aug 20, 2013

A Call to Arms: Helping Female Veterans Find Jobs

Did you know that there are now more than 20 million military veterans living in the United States? When you imagine their faces, you probably picture two distinct groups: the now-aging men who served in WWII, Vietnam and other conflicts, and the fresh-faced young people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. But there's something you may have forgotten to include in that image: for every 10 people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, there is one woman.

Women make up a large part of our armed forces and are serving in combat. Like their male counterparts, many women veterans struggle to transition back into civilian life, facing homelessness, PTSD, issues with child care, effects from sexual trauma endured while in the military, lack of licensing or credentialing, and many other challenges that can quite significantly impede their paths to economic self-sufficiency. One particular struggle women veterans face is that of finding employment to support themselves and their families as they return to a bleak job market and are unsure how to adapt the skills they have developed in the military to the private sector. In January, the unemployment rate for women veterans was 17.1 percent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest data for May says it stands at the lowest rate in years -- 4.9 percent. The unemployment rate for women veterans transitioning to the labor force is volatile, and if the cycle continues, we will likely see the rate rise dramatically again.

Two years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden called on Goodwill and others to support our military veterans by participating in the Joining Forces campaign. Goodwill rose to that call and to date has hired nearly 1,800 men and women veterans and military family members, and it has served nearly 100,000 more with job training and placement services.

These veterans are people like former Army Sergeant Ishenia Mumphord, a single mom who returned from three tours of duty in Iraq to a tough job market in her local community. She had a doubly hard time earning employment with an expired commercial driver's license, out-of-date certifications, and a résumé that did not adequately reflect her skills. She came to Goodwill Industries of Houston for assistance, where a Goodwill employment specialist led her through résumé and interviewing workshops. They worked together to better represent her skills in her résumé, and updated her commercial driver's license. As a result of these efforts, she earned a job as a manager at a major trucking firm. She also received financial coaching, which helped her buy her first house before the arrival of her second child.

Mumphord's illustrates just one stirring success story; there are thousands of other brave veterans like her, many of whom are facing similar struggles. Perhaps more alarmingly, nearly half of our women veterans are less than 30 years old, and the unemployment rate among our youngest veterans is even higher than that for the group at large. These women are a crucial element of America's future. They are tomorrow's leaders, teachers, mothers, CEOs, and, most likely, fighters. But if we expect them to fulfill any of these roles, it's up to us to connect them with the resources they need to succeed today.

On that note, I'm very pleased to announce that Goodwill has launched a new initiative to help 3,000 women veterans find jobs over the next two years. We hope more individuals and organizations will join with us to pay the debt we owe to these heroes. Without them, where would our nation be?