Honor the Troops by Hiring Them

The unemployment problem facing young veterans demands this country's immediate attention

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Bin Laden was dead and I knew I had to be at Ground Zero.

I wasn't the only one. Hundreds of people, a crush of New Yorkers, tourists, college students, 9/11 first responders, and young Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, gathered there on an otherwise quiet Sunday night. The atmosphere was respectful and solemn, as far as celebrations go. But while I welcomed the bin Laden news as much as the cops standing next to me did, I felt caught in a sudden turning point: Americans, right before my eyes, were celebrating and closing the book on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I felt numb. My mind shifted to the many thousands of troops still deployed overseas. I thought about the hurdles so many of them would face coming home. Most of all, I thought about the men and women who had never come home and never lived to see this moment.

While our troops remain in harm's way overseas, the true impact of the wars is just starting to be felt at home. Veteran suicide rates continue to skyrocket, and vet homelessness -- historically, only a major issue decades after a war ends -- is rearing its head in shelters across the country. But it's the unemployment problem facing young vets that really demands this country's immediate attention.

This is the postwar battle that Donna Bachler fights right now.

Donna deployed with the U.S. Army in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. She left the Army as a first lieutenant, but not before suffering a serious leg injury. She uses a cane to get around and has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Despite years of experience in both the fitness and administrative industries before and during her military service, she now finds that prospective employers view veterans as potential liabilities.

"All they see is a hospital day count, not understanding how dedicated to work the military makes you," she says. "As soon as I walk into an interview with a cane, the interview is essentially over." Donna has taken to picking up freelance opportunities on the web so employers can't discriminate against her physical injury. Recurrently unemployed, this wounded warrior who once worked as a personal trainer and ran her own fitness boot camp can't find steady work because of societal failures, not her own. And her story isn't rare.

The Department of Labor reported in April that 10.9 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans are currently unemployed, a full two percentage points higher than the national average. An internal survey of IAVA members suggests that number is actually much higher at 20 percent. By now, it's well known that the veterans of this generation won't be getting a welcome-home parade. Most have come to accept this after 10 years. But it's a travesty that so many are coming home to an unemployment check.

Presented by

Paul Rieckhoff is the founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the author of Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier's Fight for America From Baghdad to Washington.

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