With an unemployment rate as high as 50 percent for some National Guard and reserve units returning from deployment, lawmakers are worried that it’s not just the troops who are suffering — national security is taking a hit as well.
The unemployment numbers, however, are a matter of some dispute.
At a hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s economic opportunity panel March 14, defense officials cited an 11 percent unemployment rate for all ranks and an 18 percent jobless rate for young enlisted members.
Those figures are down from a 13.1 percent overall jobless rate for reserve-component troops in 2011 and a 23 percent rate for junior enlisted members, said Ronald Young, the Pentagon’s director of family and employer programs and policy.
But Army Maj. Ty Shepard, director of the California National Guard Employment Initiative, said every state Guard unit returning from deployment with 75 or more members has had an unemployment rate of 50 percent or greater.
Ted Daywalt, president of VetJobs.com, estimates the national unemployment rate for Army National Guard members is “somewhere between 28 percent and 30 percent.”
“We have no way to capture an accurate national number,” acknowledged Al Garver, executive director of the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States
Getting accurate numbers is difficult because some Guard and reserve members — such as recent high school graduates — did not have jobs before they deployed, and some are college students, said Maj. Gen. Terry Haston, Tennessee National Guard adjutant general.
Unemployment depends on the type of returning unit, Haston said, with units that have the youngest members likely to have the highest jobless rates.
Regardless of the exact figures, unemployment among reserve-component members is a concern for Congress because lawmakers say it could lead to retention problems.
Haston said he worries that some Guard members will leave Tennessee in order to find jobs, hurting the quality of his forces.
Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas, expressed similar concerns.
“While some of those needing a job were fresh out of high school when they joined the Guard and never held a job before deploying, such levels of unemployment have significant ramifications for not just the service members but also for our national defense,” said Flores, chairman of the economic opportunity panel.
Addressing the jobless rate requires extra effort because federal programs to assist deployed reservists do not begin until 180 days after they return home. That is why some states have created their own programs.
Garver said the government could help by allowing small businesses who hire reservists to pay the employees a stipend that would cover the premiums for Tricare Reserve Select health coverage, which would cost employers less than providing private-sector insurance.
“The troop would be getting some of the best coverage available and the business owner could save anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 or more a year,” Garver said.