Are businesses not doing enough to hire veterans, or do we simply have a bigger problem that politicians continue to ignore?
First lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden have spoken out in support of Joining Forces, a nationwide campaign they launched to support veterans and military families. They recently authored an opinion piece in Fortune magazine about veterans and spouses separating from the military and struggling to find employment: “Years of training and experience in the military — leading dozens, even hundreds of their peers; operating some of the most advanced technology; and solving complex problems under the most extreme conditions imaginable,” they write. “But when they returned home, they struggled to find decent jobs.”
The first and second lady sound as though they understand the difficulties veterans and spouses face. Yet the White House has not provided answers to some basic questions about what participating companies will offer our veterans and spouses.
There are jobs and then there are jobs. What’s needed is quality employment with solid benefits and opportunities to learn, grow and move up:
* Will these be professional positions — that is, management — or will they be only entry level?
* Will these positions be full time, part time, seasonal or temporary?
* Will these positions award veterans and spouses pay and benefits that match the knowledge and experience they have gained while they or their loved one served in uniform?
* Will these positions be open to older, homeless and/or disabled veterans?
* Will a “decent job” as Obama and Biden state, allow our veterans and spouses to afford basic necessities such as a car, food, shelter, and education for their children — or will they struggle to make ends meet?
I agree with Obama and Biden that veterans separating from the military have great knowledge and experience in their fields.
As a veterans employment counselor, I speak to veterans every day who are transitioning from the military to civilian life. I also speak to older veterans who have families and mortgages to pay, and they are also finding it difficult to find or hold a job.
I have witnessed firsthand how a well-meaning job fair for veterans can turn out, with veterans — young and old, well-groomed and suited up and with copies of resumes in hand — receiving nothing more than business cards with directions on how to apply for positions online.
After one disheartening incident, the veterans I work with and I began to wonder whether these companies are on the “support the troops” bandwagon in name only.
Still, we should be thankful to everyone trying to help veterans in this battle. But with companies still sending jobs overseas, budget cuts and many small businesses finding it difficult to stay afloat, we may never reach the goal of “finding a job for every veteran and spouse” as Obama and Biden believe is possible — though we must never stop trying.
Air Force veteran Steven Maieli, a veterans employment specialist with the New York State Department of Labor, is the founder of TransitioningVeteran.com, which highlights links to federal, state, for-profit and nonprofit veterans’ benefits and resources. He also writes a blog on transitioning veteran’s issues at transitioningveteran.com/wordpress.