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Post-9/11 Vets Face Special Employment Challenges


Retiring from military service can pose some unique challenges. One of the big ones is finding a job. For veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the unemployment rate is 11.1 percent. That's two and a half points higher than the overall unemployment rate.

Michael Haynie directs the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. He also served in the Air Force. Haynie says many veterans looking for work are at a disadvantage.

DR. MICHAEL HAYNIE: We have not done a great job developing a robust transition program for those men and women, and providing them with the opportunity to prepare themselves for the civilian job market through simple things like training on how to write a resume, or understanding how their military skills can translate to a civilian job in a way that they can go ahead and articulate their value to a civilian employer.

NEARY: Let me ask you about that a little bit more...


NEARY: ...because it would seem that, you know, these veterans have developed some very valuable skills while in the military. And, of course, they were promised the development of job skills when they were recruited.

Why don't some of those skills translate when they come back home?

HAYNIE: It's actually a pretty complex problem. Some of it relates to - for example, civilian certifications is a significant issue. Two of the most significant military specialties represented in this generation of unemployed veterans are, for example, transporters - truck drivers and combat medics.

But the reality is, you know, a young man or woman leaving military service that drove a truck back and forth across Iraq or Afghanistan, can't walk into the DMV and walk out with an equivalent license, without going through the state training program and meeting the state experience requirements.

NEARY: Any other examples of the kinds of work that veterans did that - they haven't been able to use those skills when they get into the civilian workforce?

HAYNIE: Sure. I mean, it really does run the spectrum from some professional careers, such as teachers, legal aides, and even lawyers and nurses - all of those are military professions that translate readily to the civilian job market, but that require specific certification - some at the federal level, some at the state level.

NEARY: What about soldiers who have physical disabilities, or even those who have experience mental trauma as a result of the stress of the war?

HAYNIE: Again, another significant challenge. To give that question some context, about 2.8 million men and women have served since 2001. And the rate at which they're leaving military service with enduring physical or psychological disabilities, it's actually unprecedented in U.S. history. About 30 percent, conservatively, will live out the rest of their lives with an enduring physical or psychological disability. For many of them, what we describe as traditional employment - the 9-to-5 job - may be a challenge.

One of the interesting things that we're seeing in this generation of vets is many with disabilities are turning to self-employment. For example, you know, there's a young Marine that I've been working with now for several years who is a successful business owner today, but had spent almost two years in the hospital recovering from his injuries. And, you know, he would tell me that almost every single day, everything that he had to do, he required someone to help him with.

And when he talks about business ownership, he couches it in this idea that, I have been given back autonomy and control over life. And I think that motivation is probably present in a lot of the veterans that we see pursuing self-employment.

NEARY: I can see where self-employment is a good alternative for some vets. But is it really the solution to this unemployment problem we've been talking about?

HAYNIE: I do not believe it is. You know, I think it's an element of the solution. One of the other things we need to get right for this generation of veterans is education. The post-9/11 GI bill has created unprecedented opportunities for higher education. But we're seeing veterans who pursue higher education dropping out of colleges at a very high rate.

Anywhere between 50 - and some folks will say almost 80 percent of those that start a four-year degree on the post-9/11 GI bill, are actually quitting school. And that contributes to the unemployment challenges that we're seeing.

NEARY: Michael Haynie is executive director of the Institute For Veterans and Military Families. Michael, thanks so much for joining us.

HAYNIE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.