Thursday, December 30, 2010


Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are finding that transitioning back to the civilian workforce is pretty damned difficult when there's no jobs.

While their nonmilitary contemporaries were launching careers during the nearly 10 years the nation has been at war, troops were repeatedly deployed to desolate war zones. And on their return to civilian life, these veterans are forced to find their way in a bleak economy where the skills they learned at war have little value. 

Some experts say the grim employment landscape confronting veterans challenges the veracity of one of the central recruiting promises of the nation's all-volunteer force: that serving in the military will make them more marketable in civilian life. 

"That [promise] works great in peacetime," said Lawrence J. Korb, an assistant secretary of defense for manpower under President Ronald Reagan who is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "But that does not work too well in war. . . . If you are in there four years and deployed twice, what kind of skills have you learned other than counterinsurgency?" 

The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans was 10 percent in November, compared with 9.1 percent for non-veterans, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment rates for combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been higher than the overall rate since at least 2005, according to the bureau. 
And it's pretty simple, really.  Employers these days can pick and choose the most qualified candidate for the job, and that usually means somebody with recent experience, not somebody who has spent the last several years out of the job market.

But note that it's not the recession that caused this.  Iraq and Afghanistan vets have been unemployed at a higher rate since 2005, well before the bottom fell out of the job market.  Employers wonder about the mental health history of a returning vet who served three or four tours in the sandbox.

That means the job market, or lack of it, is driving a lot of vets back into active service.  The larger problem is after nine years of war, we're discovering new and heartbreaking costs everywhere.

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