Veterans, Jobs and Unemployment

United States veterans often complete service in the military only to find themselves fighting for survival in the marketplace once they return home.  Veterans face unique obstacles in translating their military experience into civilian jobs and can find themselves in periods of unemployment that last much longer than they initially expected.

Unemployment is a present concern for nonveterans and veterans alike. While the issue has improved for veterans and civilians over the last few years, the country continues to struggle with high unemployment rates.

The overall population unemployment rate in the United States in December 2012 was 7.8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  The rate for post-9/11 veterans was 3 percentage points higher, at 10.8 percent.

The number of veterans ages 18 and over in the United States at the end of 2012 was more than 21 million.  This group is made of three types of veterans: Post-9/11 or Iraq War-era veterans, Gulf War-era veterans, and the group made up of those involved in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam Era.

The Department of Veterans Affairs, President Obama and nongovernment companies have created initiatives and programs to help veterans get acclimated to the marketplace and encourage employers to hire. Without these initiatives – and without gainful employment – veterans can find themselves back home in a society full of consumerism. And that can lead to both short-term and long-term debt.

Get Help Now

Statistics of Veteran Unemployment

The goal, of course, is to provide veterans with job and business opportunities once they decide to leave the military. Here is where the veteran unemployment rates  stood in 2011 and 2012:

In 2011:
  • All veterans: unemployment rate of 8.3 percent
  • Post-9/11 veterans: unemployment rate of 12.1  percent
  • Pre-9/11 veterans: unemployment rate of 7.1 percent
  • Post-9/11 male veterans from 18-24 had an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent, compared with the young male nonveterans’ rate of 17.6  percent
  • Post-9/11 male veterans from 25-34 had an unemployment rate of 13.4 percent, compared with the male nonveterans’ rate of 9.5 percent
  • Post-9/11 male veterans 35 and over had the same unemployment rate as nonveterans of the same age group
  • Post-9/11 female veterans had an unemployment rate of 14.7 percent
  • 14 percent of veterans had service-connected disability
In 2012:
  • All veterans: unemployment rate of 7.0 percent in December 2012, compared with a 7.8 percent U.S. unemployment rate
  • Post-9/11 veterans: unemployment rate fell to 9.2 percent
  • Post-9/11 veterans aged 18 to 24 saw unemployment rate decline for men and women
  • Post-9/11 veteran unemployment rate was 19.9 percent for women

Analysis of Veteran Unemployment Data

These statistics show that being a veteran does not exclude one from the current job crisis that many civilians are facing. Existing government and non-government programs are assisting some but not all veterans.

Although there has been improvement since 2011, the higher unemployment rate of veterans, compared with nonveterans, for the year 2011 deserves examination.

In 2011, post-9/11 male veterans between 18 and 24 faced an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent, which was nearly double the rate of male nonveterans in that demographic. In March 2012, post-9/11 veterans ages 20-24 were at an unemployment rate of 36 percent.

For these young men and women returning home, time is a barrier that cannot be substituted by a program. Being outside of the civilian world for so long — often deployed during the traditional age of attending college — can leave veterans without college degrees or business experience.

Veterans encounter some of the same pitfalls that unemployed nonveterans face, like using credit cards while waiting for paychecks to come in, or spending without planning for the future. Time spent looking for a job comes at a cost.

One of the difficulties in finding employment for veterans can be translating military experience into job skills. There are a number of ways this is being addressed.

Skills translators like the one offered by and help veterans identify employable skills based on their military rank and history. Certain programs offer licenses and certificates based on military experience. However, programs like this must be constantly updated to keep up with changes in the job market.

Recent Government-Sponsored Programs

Lawmakers and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) combine their knowledge, influence and funds to make jobs available and accessible to veterans. Jobs are made available through improving veterans’ benefits, like the GI Bill, and creating new veteran benefits, like the opening up of a job space in a successful company.

Employers are the second beneficiaries of government-sponsored programs, receiving both tax credits and financial reimbursement for hiring veterans.  Employers who hire veterans also benefit by gaining loyal, responsible and hard-working employees.

Hiring Our Heroes

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce funds job fairs across the country for veterans and military spouses. Its goal is to help 500,000 veterans and spouses find jobs by 2015.

Bills for Veterans

Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania passed bills to encourage companies to hire veterans. The bills offer tax credits, propose hiring veterans as teachers and let veteran experience count toward licensing and certification requirements.

Joining Forces

First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden help veterans and their spouses to find jobs, particularly jobs around military bases. They have set forth plans to have 15,000 jobs open in the next few years.

Veterans Jobs Corps Initiative, VA and the Interior Department

About $166 million is allotted to communities filling law enforcement jobs with post-9/11 veterans, and another $320 million will go to fire departments committed to hiring veterans. Meanwhile, $1 billion goes toward 20,000 opportunities for veterans to work on conservation of America’s state and federal public lands.

Veterans Job Bank

This is an online job resource from that connects veterans with jobs using their code/title and locations.

VOW To Hire Heroes Act of 2011

This offers veterans an opportunity to broaden their skills in order to find jobs. It expanded education and training opportunities, improved programs that assist veterans in transitioning to civilian life, and worked to find ways to translate military skills into practical job skills.

Special Employer Incentives Program (SEI)

The VA put together this program that is mutually beneficial to veterans and employers that hire veterans by paying employers about 6 months of 50 percent reimbursement of veteran’s salary, and covering costs of tools, equipment, uniforms and supplies at new jobs.

Available Non-Government Job Resources

Non-Government Job Resources for veterans allow established companies to give back to the community. Companies that are committed to the cause of veterans are working to open up positions for this newly unemployed group and build upon the skills that the U. S. military has already taught soldiers.

Unlike Government programs, these resources include a greater variety of job types.  Companies intentionally work together to give veterans access to fields they might initially be barred from due to inexperience.

100,000 Jobs Mission

More than 40 companies are planning to hire 100,000 veterans by 2020, including Lockheed Martin, Anheuser-Busch, Target and IBM.

Heroes to Work Here

Walt Disney World Corp. plans to offer 1,000 veteran jobs and increase public awareness

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

A Non-profit organization helps veterans through: Combat to Career- an initiative that provides business suits and conducts Smart Job Fairs and Google Resume workshops.

Veterans Employment Summit of 2011

This is a gathering of companies who have been working to hire and train veterans. It also raises veteran unemployment awareness

Veterans on Wall Street

Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America and other large institutional lenders formed a coalition to provide jobs and training for veterans.

Obstacles Veterans Still Face

Veterans do face the difficulty of only finding similar jobs in law enforcement, security or fire-fighting.  Some veterans seeking to expand their skillset are pigeon-holed into jobs they do not want.  One example of this is the Joining Forces campaign which has a high number of jobs, but many of them are in telemarketing and customer service.

Veterans also find themselves limited by location, as they may head home from serving to find that where families and communities are may not be where jobs are.  They are also already limited by the general unemployment trends that hit certain locations harder; for example, as of December 2012, Nevada still struggled with an unemployment rate of 10.8 percent.

Employers may resist hiring veterans because of preconceived notions that soldiers will come back with a fighter’s mentality that is not suitable for the workplace.  Instead, many veterans possess the ability to work well with a team and lead when necessary.

Another barrier that employers encounter is ignorance of milder levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) that do not actually inhibit workers.  The Society for Human Resources took a poll in 2010 and found 46 percent of employers were deterred from hiring veterans due to the possibility of PTSD.

One of the disadvantages of unemployment benefits is that eventually they do expire. While veterans receive both funds and health benefits when they first apply for unemployment, these are only temporary provisions.  Eventually, some veteran families will find themselves struggling to pay for doctor’s appointments.

Another important facet of the job market is making connections; it’s who you know.  If someone has been deployed for months or years, it is unlikely that they will have long lists of contacts that might hire them.  Although a veteran’s military rank, or a veteran’s reference’s rank may be high, an unrecognized name holds less weight in the civilian world.

Looking to the Future

Congress has passed the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program scheduled to begin in mid- 2012. The VA the Department of Labor will work together to give 12 months of training to unemployed veterans. The program holds promise as it links workers to jobs in a variety of fields.

The number of unemployed veterans will likely increase as veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan end their tours – between 2011 and 2016, an estimated 1 million altogether – and return home to search for new jobs, and all military branches are required to make upcoming layoffs due to necessary federal budget cuts.

More veterans means more jobs needed means more initiatives created and completed. There is still a great deal of work to be done to make work available.

Bill Fay

Bill Fay is a journalism veteran with a nearly four-decade career in reporting and writing for daily newspapers, magazines and public officials. His focus at is on frugal living, veterans' finances, retirement and tax advice. Bill can be reached at

More From This Author
Get Help Now

Overwhelmed with debt? You have options for lower monthly payments!