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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Raun Lazier and Nathan Williamson
December 1, 2015
The pressing issues of the day facing the veteran community are also society’s issues. Some challenges are unique due to the nature of military service, while both the military and civilian communities share others. One of these shared challenges is recognized as a priority by both national leaders and citizens alike: ensuring veterans are given equal opportunity to successfully reintegrate into the civilian workforce.
When leaving military service, veterans can take two broad employment tracks. They can work in the private sector or for the government. Hiring practices in both sectors, while similar, present different consideration as veterans progress through the employment process. Since the founding of our nation, veterans have received some degree of preference in the federal government hiring process. Recognizing their sacrifice, Congress has enacted laws to protect veterans seeking federal employment from being penalized for their time in military service. Veterans’ preference does not and should not guarantee a position within the federal government. However, it is a strong recognition of the economic loss suffered by citizens who have served their country during times of war and acknowledges the larger obligation owed to disabled veterans.
In the private sector, organizations are partnering across all industrial sectors to drive positive change. They identify with the social obligation to ensure veterans and their families have opportunities for gainful employment and are not penalized for their admirable service. Just as important is recognizing the value veterans bring to the workforce. For example, a Forbes.com article highlights the value that some employers seeing in hiring veterans, as shown below.
Overall, veterans seem to be doing better but some challenges still exist. According to a recent report from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), veterans as a whole are faring well—employment and earnings are generally comparable to the non-veteran population or even better among some groups for the first time since Sept. 11, 2001. Furthermore, 95 percent of veterans will connect to employment before using the full 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Moreover, they are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed. Consequently, veteran-owned firms employ 5.8 million individuals, as shown in a recent study conducted by the Small Business Administration.
Veterans face financial challenges that may be a result of difficulties related to their military service, such as combat exposure or psychological or cognitive war injury. According to a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, veterans with these issues face lower rates of employment and income. Furthermore, the study found veterans who lacked financial stability to meet basic needs, regardless of diagnosis, were more likely to be arrested, be homeless, misuse alcohol and drugs, demonstrate suicidal behavior or engage in aggression – all issues that must be dealt with by local communities.
Veterans are most at risk during the period of reintegration from military to permanent civilian life. Approximately 53 percent of Post-9/11 veterans will face a period of unemployment. While national unemployment rates have declined, the reality is that half of our veterans enter a period of unemployment upon reintegration, according to the VA. Finding gainful employment as a means for achieving financial well-being is a critical step in achieving successful reintegration back into economic and social civilian life.
The successful reintegration of veterans and their families remains a priority challenge facing our leaders and society. In fact, VA identified the reintegration of the veteran family as one of its priority research areas in its Veteran Policy Research Agenda and convened a forum with leaders representing the governmental and non-governmental sectors to discuss issues reintegration and veterans in the workforce.
Authors: Raun Lazier is a policy director in the federal government. He has studied and evaluated workforce issues in the local government, nonprofit and federal sector. Nathan Williamson is a senior policy analyst in the federal government. He is also a veteran and served two combat tours in Iraq. Raun and Nathan have a combined 24 years in the veteran community.