NEW YORK — Despite an improving economy, U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still having difficulty finding jobs - and their unemployment rate of just under 10 percent is considerably higher than the national average. But a number of companies are committed to making things better.
The band played, attendees honored their country, and then they went about the business of finding jobs. The event, at the 69th Regiment Armory in New York, brought together some 1,000 veterans looking for their break back into civilian life. Companies from all sectors - private and public - were there. Some, like Toyota, have made real commitments - says company representative, Don Evan.
"In three years, and 621 or 622 job fairs, we’ve hired 22,000 young men and women from our armed forces," he said. "I think if you look at today’s veterans they’ve got outstanding skills. They’re trainable, they’re smart. They’ve had leadership, they’ve had more responsibility at an earlier age than civilian counterparts. What they lack is the ability to market themselves."
Part of the marketing process is learning how to sell one’s skills. A team of professionals worked with the vets to put those skills down on paper so they would be understandable to a prospective employer.
The veterans look at these opportunities with clear focus.
"I've seen a lot of great companies here today. They are hiring for a lot of great positions that I'm qualified for and hopefully I'll be able to get into one of these good positions with one of these good companies," said one veteran job-seeker.
"They want to help us veterans. A lot of us are coming out with PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], with scars, and injured…their hand is out to us more than it was a few years ago, I think," said another veteran.
Dakota Meyer, a Medal of Honor recipient, is the unofficial spokesman for vets searching for civilian work. He talked about the burden placed on his fellow servicemen and women, especially those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“It was the longest war ever fought. It was fought by such a small percentage of our population, less than 0.45 percent of our nation carried the burden of this war over the past 12-13 years," he said. "Are they ready? Of course. They are ready for anything. They’re ready to go to war tomorrow, so they’re ready to go to any civilian workplace."
More veterans are finding work these days, mainly because the American economy is growing after years of recession. Veteran leaders, such as Meyer, see this development as proof that a tougher focus on veteran unemployment by the White House, Congress, communities, labor unions and business is paying off.
Daniela Schrier contributed to this report.