04/03/2013 09:14 am ET Updated Jun 03, 2013

The Real Veteran Unemployment Problem

There have been many confusing articles in the press recently about whether the unemployment situation for veterans is improving or getting worse. Much of the confusion stems from the press reports written by people who do not know how to interpret the Department of Labor (DOL) and Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) two unemployment reports.

According to the BLS, the total number of unemployed veterans in February 2012 was 777,000. The total in February 2013 was 772,000, a decline of only 5,000 in a year. Of course, in January 2013 there were 844,000 unemployed veterans. So in the short and the long term the veteran unemployment rate is improving.

When looking at veteran unemployment, it helps to identify which veterans one is talking about. To make things easy, think in terms of three specific groups: transitioning veterans (those leaving active duty), separated veterans (been out for one or more years) and the National Guard & Reserve.

Younger veterans have had a higher unemployment rate than other veterans since 2007. Press reports attribute younger veteran unemployment to not having skills since they were in the military, problems from the wars, lack of education, PTSD, lack of a prior civilian job, etc. While some of these myths may be true for a very small minority of young veterans, they are NOT the real reasons for young veteran unemployment today.

So let us dispel the myths.

First, anyone who has been in the military for a year or more has skills sought by civilian employers.

Second, the reality is the unemployment rate for veterans as a class has ALWAYS been lower than the national unemployment rate. This is always a shock to people because of the way veterans are portrayed in the press. The fact that veterans as a class have an overall unemployment rate that is always lower than the national unemployment rate proves beyond any doubt that veterans have better success finding employment than non-veterans!

Third, at VetJobs we see over 20,000 veterans and their family members a day visiting the site looking for work. For the most part those who totally separate from the military are finding work, which is not to say there are not some who have problems in this recession, but most veterans are finding work.

Fourth, where there IS a veteran unemployment problem is in the National Guard & Reserve. Most of the members of the National Guard are young. But the National Guard & Reserve have been called up so many times that employers do not want to hire them. A company cannot operate effectively with employees being taken away for 12 to 24 months at a time, multiple times.

Fifth, the National Guard is discriminated against more than the Reserve. When a member of the National Guard returns from deployment, should there be an emergency in the state, the governor calls up the National Guard, meaning the National Guard member is away from their civilian job even more. Employers will not tolerate this, which is why the USERRA (the law that protects members of the Guard & Reserve) complaints skyrocketed from 5,333 in 2006 to 34,612 in 2010, a 700 percent increase!

Sixth, the current call-up policy went into effect on January 11, 2007. The unemployment rate for the young veterans in 2006 was 10.4 percent. By the end of 2007 it was 22.3 percent, a direct result of the call up policy. Employers were not going to keep an employee that cannot be counted on to show up for work. The policy makers at the Department of Defense (DOD) still do not understand this basic business principle.

Seventh, if it were not for the estimated 28 percent plus unemployment rate of the National Guard nationally, the overall unemployment rate for all veterans would be about 4.0 percent instead of 6.9 percent. Keep in mind that the National Guard & Reserve now make up nearly 52 percent of America's fighting force.

Eighth, this situation will not get better until the current flawed call-up policy is fixed. Every time the active military has been reduced, after WWII, Korea, Vietnam, in the Clinton Administration and now by the Obama administration, the use of the National Guard & Reserve has gone up. That is happening again. The more the National Guard & Reserve is used the fewer employers will want to give them a job.

Conclusion: Today the employment situation is better for veterans, but only if the veteran is totally separated from the military. If you are in the National Guard and to some extent in the Reserve, it is going to be very rough until the flawed call up policy is corrected.

Having said all the above, I want to emphasize that overwhelmingly employers support the military. They understand that a strong military is necessary to defend our free market economy. But employers cannot go broke supporting the military, which is exactly what DOD is doing to employers, especially small and mid-size companies.

This situation has got to change. We are making the members of the National Guard & Reserve third class citizens who are expected to fight for America, die or be wounded. Then when they return home from wars or deployments, the DOD call up policy makes it difficult for them to have a continuum of civilian employment. This is not right and must be changed!