Why is joblessness for veterans so high?

Veterans of America's most recent wars are having a tougher time finding work than their civilian counterparts, a situation that's likely to worsen as the military continues to shrink.

As of April, the unemployment rate for Gulf War II veterans, defined as those who served after Sept. 11, 2001, was 6.8 percent, down from 7.5 percent a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. April's rate for nonveterans was 5.7 percent, down 1.2 percentage points from a year earlier. Since the start of the recession, the jobless rate for vets has consistently been worse than the rest of the population. At its worst, in 2010, nearly 15 percent of vets were jobless vs. 9.6 percent overall.

There's no simple explanation for why the rates are so disparate, but some of it likely has to do with the differences between working for the military and working as a civilian.

Because they haven't been working in the private sector, vets don't have the network of business contacts that others do. Also, civilians frequently don't understand how military job experience translates into nonmilitary jobs.

Lauren Augustine, an Iraq war vet and legislative associate for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association, said she led troops, served in combat and was responsible for overseeing millions of dollars in government equipment. "If I put that on my resume, a hiring manager wouldn't know what I was talking about," she said. "But if I say that I've got a lot of experience as a project manager, then they get it."

She pointed out that at the same time a vet is getting used to a new job, he or she is also facing a big adjustment to life as a civilian.

"It's a difficult transition, not just a job change for them," said Augustine. "Vets are people with great jobs skills who are used to working in a very organized, orderly work situation." They have been living in a relatively closed community where they didn't have to think about housing, food or even health care. "Now," she said, "just having to find the grocery store is something they have to think about that they didn't before."

She believes the key to bringing down the number of unemployed vets is to continue the public and private efforts that have already proved successful.

Last month, the federal government launched ebenefits.va.gov, a centralized website to help veterans and their spouses find work. This is just one of many such efforts. In late 2011, under the Returning Heroes Tax Credit, which went into effect in late 2011, businesses could get as much as $5,600 to hire unemployed veterans and nearly $10,000 to hire veterans with service-connected disabilities. The law, which expired in January, awarded more than 50,000 certifications to employers just in 2013, according to the Labor Department.

The private sector has also been active in trying to help vets find work. Early this month the 100,000 Jobs Mission -- a coalition of 11 companies -- announced it had hired 140,832 vets. The coalition is now aiming to hire 200,000 vets by 2020.

It's a good thing the group has raised its goal. In any given year, anywhere from 240,000 to 360,000 people leave the service, according to a 2013 White House report. That number will swell into the millions in the coming years as the military looks to cut troop levels and change back to a peacetime force.

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    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.

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