Veterans have the skills businesses need, so why don't more have jobs?

Andrew Borene
Andrew Borene is an attorney and Iraq veteran.
Submitted photo

Despite increasing payrolls and a purported economic recovery, the unemployment rate among new veterans is skyrocketing.

Individual Americans and businesses can turn this situation around. We can each help build deeper understanding of the value that our war veterans bring to the workplace.

Now more than ever, our nation's businesses need people who can be innovative and competitive, who can work with diverse groups. In a time of war and extended national emergency, you would think that managers would be looking for exactly the kind of proven accountability, leadership and commitment to service that veterans have already demonstrated.

The economy is on an upswing. According to financial media, American payrolls are adding jobs at the fastest rate in three years and unemployment is on the downswing nationally. According to the U.S. Labor Department, the unemployment rate stayed at 9.7 percent for the first three months of this year, even as payrolls were expanding. This means there are new jobs. Based on these facts alone, unemployment for current-conflict veterans should be decreasing.

So why is there steeply rising unemployment among veterans of the current conflict?

According to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), in March 2010 the unemployment rate of Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans was 14.7 percent and had been rising. In 2009, the average unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans at 10.2 percent was significant but closer to the nationwide norm.

Also according to IAVA, the unemployment rate among male veterans of the current conflicts nearly tripled from 5 percent in March 2007 to 15 percent today.

Our veterans are highly employable, talented, motivated people. Are hiring managers simply unaware of the benefits of hiring a veteran?

One theory is that much of corporate America has forgotten the value of combat leadership. Some employers ignore the importance of military service as a factor that can add to the diversity of their talent pool.

Employers routinely take polls that ask about race, sexual preference, national origin and gender in reference to diversity. Rarely do those polls ask about veteran status. Having applied for over 100 jobs myself since returning from Iraq in 2003, I have not yet seen a single private sector diversity poll that asked about combat service in the current wars.

Who can blame those businesses? Our culture as a whole seems to be disconnected from our military.

Most media coverage of veterans revolves around the horrors of war and PTSD. Yet the vast majority of combat veterans don't have mental health issues, and of that minority who do, conditions related to combat exposure are wholly treatable. If anything, the mental resilience needed to survive and thrive after a crisis are exactly the kind of attributes we should be seeking in private sector leaders.

The American military has a frighteningly low participation rate among the general population. Our college and graduate-level education system is predominantly led by academics who never served a day in uniform.

Add to this a generalized stigma around service. Despite strong support for our troops in the field, there is an almost universal misunderstanding among the general American population about the motivations for national service and the effects of combat.

How can we help corporate America and small business owners see the value and diversity added by hiring a veteran? The cultural challenges are great. The answers lie in education and awareness.

We can look for success stories and share them. A recent Fortune magazine featured current-conflict veterans and the "new face of leadership" for American businesses. Sadly, that kind of reporting is the exception, not the rule.

We should be developing a societal bias in favor of hiring people who have real world experience in managing crisis and operating under pressure, and who have shown a propensity for national service. These people are veterans.

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Andrew Borene is an attorney and a corporate program manager. He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the war in Iraq .

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