Defense Media Network

Veterans’ Jobs Forecast: Partly Cloudy

It’s not the best time to be looking for work, but things are looking up – and many, many people are trying to help.

In November 2011, when President Barack Obama signed the VOW (Veterans Opportunity to Work) to Hire Heroes Act into law, the unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had risen to 12.1 percent, far higher than the national rate of 9.0. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that 240,000 Gulf War II-era veterans (those serving after Sept. 11, 2001) remained unemployed – an alarming increase of 30,000 in one year.

VOW to Hire Heroes Act Veterans' Jobs

President Barack Obama signs the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (VOW to Hire Heroes Act), that will provide tax credits to help put veterans back to work. First lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and second lady Jill Biden attend the ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building South Court Auditorium, Nov. 21, 2011. Official White House photo by Pete Souza

By July 2012, the unemployment rate for Gulf War II-era veterans was down to 8.9 percent – much improved, but still higher than the national average of 8.2 percent. Interestingly, the unemployment rate of all military veterans, 6.9 percent, remained lower than the national average.

These statistics suggest that for veterans, employment is a complicated issue. It’s impossible to deduce from the numbers whether the VOW Act, or any of the programs recently established to encourage veteran employment, has worked – in fact, the law’s reviews so far have been decidedly mixed. Its critics say, among other things, that a more detailed examination of veterans’ employment circumstances may help policymakers, legislators, and private organizations direct resources to the veterans who need it most.

By the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) estimate, more than a million American service members will be coming home over the next five years to look for work. The VOW Act is just one of many programs designed to help.


Federal Programs

The VOW to Hire Heroes Act took aim at several problems, both providing incentives for employers to hire veterans and increasing the likelihood that separating service members would seek counsel and training opportunities. Its provisions include:

  • a tax credit of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, as well as a $2,400 credit for hiring veterans who are unemployed for between one and six months;
  • a “Wounded Warrior” tax credit of up to $9,600 for companies that hire post-9/11 veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months;
  • the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP GI Bill), an expanded education and training opportunity for 100,000 veterans aged 35 to 60 – those not eligible for Montgomery GI Bill or the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. VRAP offers up to 12 months of education benefits, worth as much as $17,600 ($1,473 a month) toward the pursuit of an associate degree, a non-college degree, or certificate from a community college or technical school;
  • up to one year of additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) benefits for disabled veterans; and
  • an overhaul of the optional Transition Assistance Program (TAP) workshops, hosted by the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Labor (DOL), and VA and designed to help service members move successfully into civilian life. Among military members, TAP workshops have become derided as “death by PowerPoint®,” a tedious 187-slide presentation devised after the first Gulf War and little altered in the past 20 years.

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Craig Collins is a veteran freelance writer and a regular Faircount Media Group contributor who...