When armed conflicts began in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, America promised that those serving in battle would not be neglected as were those who served in Vietnam two generations ago. Sadly, limited social services and shoddy treatment rule as thousands of returning members of the military are discarded after leaving active duty. Even after the parades of Memorial Day fade away, America should remember how much it owes to its service members and reward them for their selflessness by helping them secure jobs in addition to other benefits.
While it may appear counter-intuitive to propose a job creation program for veterans while the economy is in a deep recession, the federal stimulus package offers a solution. Governors may set aside a portion of the discretionary funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to fund a job placement program for specialized populations including disabled veterans and recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), commonly known as welfare, under the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).
About 7.1 million people have served in the Gulf War since 2001, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, of which 52% are with the Reserve or National Guard and 48% are on active duty. In total, there are about 23.8 million living U.S. veterans who served during both war and peacetime.
Unfortunately, the number of veterans moving into the ranks of the unemployed is growing. There were 28,435 newly discharged veterans claiming unemployment insurance benefits for the week ending May 16, an increase of 181% over the prior year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
While there has been no national study of employment trends among newly returning veterans, a remarkable study conducted by Central Connecticut State University and the Connecticut Department of Veterans’ Affairs revealed that employers may be reluctant to hire veterans because of misconceptions about their disabilities.
One way to honor our veterans is to provide them with jobs in addition to other benefits. In fact, employment might well be the best and most effective means of aiding people as they re-enter the civilian workforce.
Since January 2009, America Works has operated a unique job placement program for veterans receiving food stamps with funding from the Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office of Veterans Affairs and the New York City Human Resources Administration. In addition to aiding veterans, this program simultaneously reduces their reliance on New York’s overburdened social services.
America Works prepares them for the job market (providing them with targeted training as well as a resume, appropriate clothing, and car fare), then sends them out on appropriately selected job interviews. This program is open to newly returning vets as well as those who served at any other time in the past.
Based on our experience with Vietnam veterans, we know that many people who leave active duty disappear from the public’s view only to end up unemployed and homeless. Is not one measure of a country’s worth its treatment of those who have served, suffered, and survived their ordeals?
We should live by the words of Pres. John F. Kennedy, who said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”