Unemployment high among young veterans

Associated Press / March 12, 2011

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WASHINGTON — More than 20 percent of young Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans were unemployed last year, the Labor Department said yesterday.

Concerns that National Guard and Reserve troops will be gone for long stretches and that veterans might have mental health issues or lack civilian work skills appear to be factors keeping the unemployment rate for the veterans at 20.9 percent.

That is a slight drop from the year before, but still well over the 17.3 percent rate for nonveterans of the same 18-24 age group.

“The employers out there, they are military-friendly and veteran-friendly, and they love us and thank us and everything, but when you go apply for a job, it’s almost like they are scared to take a risk for you. I don’t get it. It doesn’t make sense,’’ said Iraq veteran Christopher Kurz, 28, who just moved back in with his parents in Arizona after spending two years looking for law enforcement work in New York.

Kurz said his time as a military police officer in Iraq and aboard a nuclear aircraft carrier did not seem to translate into a job.

For Iraq and Afghanistan veterans of all ages, the unemployment rate last year was 11.5 percent.

The problem has persisted despite government and private initiatives designed to help them.

Advocates say a more concerted effort to have licensing and skills obtained in the military translate into the civilian workplace and for more public awareness about what veterans offer employers is needed to tackle the problem.

Senator Patty Murray, chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said veterans have told her they take their military experience off their resumes because they fear a potential employer will decide they’re at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder and not hire them.

“They take four or eight years of experience and throw it out the door and pretend it doesn’t even exist,’’ said Murray, a Washington Democrat. “That to me is a huge consequence to them, professionally.’’

One of the largest government efforts is the Post-9/11 GI Bill administered by the Veterans Affairs Department, which by the end of last year had paid out nearly $7.2 billion in tuition, housing, and stipends for more than 425,000 veterans or their eligible family members.