According to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report, unemployment for post-9/11 veterans is 9.2%, but nearly four times that — 35% — for veterans age 20-24.
The picture is complicated, to be sure.
But it’s also troubling. Here are three steps we must take right now to soften the landing for veterans — especially those with injuries — in the civilian economy:
Solve the complex puzzle of employment for veterans with disabilities. Twenty-five percent of recent veterans report having a service-connected disability — from hearing loss, to burns, and missing limbs, in addition to traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.
Yet there is proof that even for those with life-altering injuries, employment is not only possible, but probable. Programs like the National Organization on Disability’s Wounded Warrior Careers initiative are helping veterans with serious disabilities achieve meaningful, rewarding and sustainable careers in the civilian sector.
Of the 275 transitioning veterans this program serves, 70% are employed, or receiving education and training to get there. We must adopt models like this to keep our injured heroes productively engaged in the workforce where their talents and ideas can not only shine, but fuel our economy.
Put entrepreneurial veterans on the path to business ownership.
More than a million service members will return to the homefront over the next five years. With these kind of numbers, even the record efforts of large companies who have pledged to employ them will not be enough.
Studies show a natural correlation between military service and business ownership. We need more programs like those by the Institute for Veteran and Military Families at Syracuse University to educate and train service members to chart their own careers.
Beyond world-class training, they’ll need access to contacts and capital, so private sector partners must step in as mentors, lenders, partners, investors and angels to make their dreams for business ownership a reality.
Small businesses are America’s job engine. Putting a new generation of vetrepreneurs behind the wheel will help move our heroes, and our nation, forward.
Smooth the transition from combat to college.
After World War II, half of all college students were veterans. Today that number is less than 5%. Yet according to a 2012 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one-half of all new jobs created through 2018 will require a post-secondary education or certificate.
Veterans learn valuable skills while serving their countries. But military service enhances, not replaces, education.
Of course, not every veteran will go to college, but those who do need a peer support network, and a welcoming campus environment with faculty, coaches, administrators and clergy trained to understand and meet their needs. Especially for veterans who have experienced post-traumatic stress or depression, the availability of mental health resources on college campuses can play a vital role in helping them graduate.
We admire the work of the American Council on Education and the Student Veterans of America to support student veterans and the institutions who educate them with veteran-friendly campus cultures and practices. These best practices must be implemented consistently, nationwide, for student veterans to succeed at college and contribute to society in the same meaningful way they did during war.
To do all of this well, collaboration is essential.
Public-private partnerships are increasing, but we need more of them, with larger scale and longer-term commitment. Government efforts can be siloed, with information sharing sometimes hampered by outdated systems, rules or mindsets.
Finally, nonprofits need to resist acting like competitors, and force the same collaboration in each other that they seek from the corporate sector. We pledge to do our part.
This week, we are convening a meeting to investigate the underlying barriers to employment among post-9/11 veterans with disabilities. When it’s over, we’ll issue a call for grant proposals, but we will reject any request that does not include a process for collaboration with other not-for-profits.
A million heroes are on their way home. They seek what we all do: a sense of purpose, a sustainable source of income, and a successful future for their families.
We must redouble our efforts to ensure their employment transition, indeed the next chapter of their lives, is worthy of their sacrifice. We’re up for the job.
Anne Marie Dougherty is executive director of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, a nonprofit organization named for the ABC newsman seriously injured in Iraq in 2006, and dedicated to ensuring injured service members, veterans and their families thrive once they return home.