Back at Home, But Still at War

Imagine yourself in the military on December 15, 2011. Operation Iraqi Freedom has ended and you are now returning to your beloved country, spouse and children. Your next step, obviously, is to find a job and support your family. January passes, February passes, March goes by and April came and went ... no job. After all you've done for your country ... you've left a war and, unbeknownst to you, have now entered a battle and are still at war. The truth is that, unfortunately, you are not alone.

Many of our soldiers are experiencing a vitality gap, according to one of our graduates Steve Keesal, as they make their transition back to their communities. They have served the country at a very high level, leading teams of soldiers, responsible for securing the safety of the country and their battle buddy, expected to be entrepreneurial in a foreign land, then to come back to their homes without that same level of extraordinary expectation. Their combat experience has taught them some hard life lessons, but none like facing the extraordinary challenge of fighting for their families in their own homeland. Iraq and Afghanistan have caused stress that eats away at them physically, mentally and spiritually. There's no rest from the tactics of terrorist warfare. The pressure's there every moment. It takes a terrible toll, even on the toughest soldier. Worse, our troops aren't finished with war when they come home. After being acclimated to a life of combat, they return home to what is now foreign to them.

I've spoken to many soldiers from the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars who often feel like a stranger in their own land. Uncomfortable in a land they call home. The adrenalin of being on the front lines has dissipated to sleepless nights, loneliness, anxiety, addiction, mental illness and lack of opportunity to buy food to put on the table for their families. This is a battle they weren't prepared for. There was no boot camp or strategy session that gave them insight into this enemy's territory of unemployment and underemployment. The New Greatest Generation is a group that is interested not in a handout, but interested in results and opportunity. The pride of voluntarily fighting for your country has resulted in the battle for survival. Can you imagine being in fierce battle, and then have to wonder where your next meal is going to come from?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate of all veterans in 2011 was 8.3 percent. Young male veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 who served during Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) had an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent in 2011 -- higher than that of young male nonveterans (17.6 percent). Of the veterans who served in one or both of OEF/OIF, 11.6 percent were unemployed in 2011. Among these Gulf War-era II veterans, the unemployment rate for women in 2011 was 12.4 percent. No one, but particularly our capable servicemen and women, should have to fight this battle.

How can we begin to ensure that our veterans obtain employment? Under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit of 2010, small businesses can receive tax credits when they hire veterans. Small business owners can receive a $4,800 tax credit when they hire a disabled veteran; a $2,400 tax credit when they hire a non-disabled veteran; and $9,000 if they hire a veteran who participated long-term in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

Small businesses can also receive a tax deduction under the Architectural / Transportation Tax Deduction when they make a facility or public transportation vehicle more accessible to a disabled person. The Disabled Access Credit allows small businesses to receive a tax credit when they incur expenses to provide access to the disabled. Under the Veterans Job Training Act, employers can receive funds in order to train long-term, unemployed veterans of the Korean conflict or the Vietnam era.

Let's show real support for our troops by hiring them when they come home. Their experiences have allowed them to be the exact employee you're looking for: attentive, responsible, fearless and respectful. Most of the military jobs translate easily in the private sector. Our returning veterans have skills in telecommunications, health care, customer relations, human resources, and many other sectors. They are problem solvers, detail oriented, and savvy communicators with a strong work ethic. Some of our top leaders in the country are veterans who are working in finance, medicine, politics and many industries that require strong leadership. Who wouldn't want that type of individual working on their team? I know I would.

New Directions, Inc. is working extremely hard to ensure we help our veterans get back to work and close the vitality gap. We are committed on a daily basis in creating opportunities for the veterans we serve to gain the necessary skills it takes to be successful. Although many of us were not in Iraq or Afghanistan fighting in the war, we can help the New Greatest Generation of Vets win this new battle we are all fighting together.