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.
These numbers show that employers are shying away from hiring veterans. Sometimes, years of military training and certificates don't perfectly translate to a civilian marketplace. Other times, if that candidate is still in the National Guard or Reserves, the employer cites concerns about future deployments. And still other times, it's that tired old stereotype of the crazed vet afflicted with PTSD.
IAVA's goal is to lower the high unemployment number by Veterans Day, and we need help. There are two components -- the public and the private. First, Congress needs to stop bickering and do its job. They must pass legislation that requires transitional assistance for all service members leaving the military, strengthens the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), and creates tax incentives for employers that hire veterans. But government can only do so much in creating a hiring environment friendly to veterans.
The private sector is where jobs will come from. So it's time for the Fortune 500 to do their part for America. The number of unemployed Iraq and Afghanistan vets is less than 300,000. That's a totally scalable number. Companies that have the foresight to hire vets won't just be capitalizing on national goodwill, they'll be investing in dynamic, tech-savvy men and women who don't quit. JP Morgan Chase, for one, has answered the call, having pledged to hire 20,000 military veterans by the end of 2012. But we need much more. Every company in America must make a commitment to hire veterans.