Veterans, Jobs and Unemployment

Prospects for U.S. veterans returning to the civilian workforce have improved dramatically since the Great Recession of 2008, when unemployment spiked and newly discharged service members struggled to find any work in a contracting economy.

By early 2016, the veteran unemployment rate was lower than the rate for workers in general, sliding to 4.6% in August 2015 – 3.2 percentage points lower than in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That compares to a 5.1% unemployment for all civilians over age 18.

The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans, many of whom returned to civilian employment just after the 2008 financial meltdown, has fallen markedly.  At 5.8%, it was less than half the rate reported in 2012.

There were 21.2 million veterans ages 18 and over in 2015 divided into four categories: Gulf War II (September 2001 to present) veterans, Gulf War I (August 1990 to August 2001) veterans, and a group composed of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam Conflict vets.

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’s how employment looked for veterans in mid-2015:
  • All Veterans – unemployment rate of 4.6%
  • Post-9/11 Veterans – unemployment rate of 5.8%
  • Veterans from 18–24 – unemployment rate of 13% (compared with the nonveterans’ rate of 10.9%)
  • Post-9/11 Veterans from 25–34 –unemployment rate of 6.9% (compared with the male nonveterans’ rate of 5.4%)
  • Male Veterans – unemployment rate of 4.5% (compared with the female veterans’ rate of 5.4%)
  • Service-Connected Disability – unemployment rate of 5.4% (this includes 20% of all veterans, or 4.3 million people)

Veterans’ Unemployment Compensation and Employment Assistance

Veterans leaving active duty might qualify for unemployment benefits through Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Service Members, a federal program administered by the states. You are eligible if:

  • You were on active duty with a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • You were discharged honorably
  • No payroll deduction was taken from your wages that was applied to unemployment protection.

Receiving separation pay from a military branch might influence your eligibility for unemployment compensation. Retirees almost certainly face a reduction in potential benefits, which are taken into consideration in calculating benefits.

State unemployment offices handle unemployment claims, and benefits vary from state to state. You must apply for benefits, and this is best taken care of when you talk to a local veterans’ employment representative at a state employment office. Remember to bring discharge papers (DD Form 214), your Social Security card and your civilian and military resumes when you go.

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 are constantly updated to keep up with changes in the job market.

Federal Programs

Lawmakers and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) combine their knowledge, influence and funds to help veterans find work. Since World War II, programs like the GI Bill have offered training and educational assistance to soldiers returning to civilian life.

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

Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors Tax Credits

The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 included an extension of federal tax credits for companies hiring returning veterans and those disabled in service. The extensions of the credits continue through the end of 2019.

Companies employ veterans to gain financial benefit through credits like the following:
  • A credit of 40% on the first $6,000 of wages (up to $2,400) to employers who hire veterans who have received unemployment compensation for at least four weeks, or who have received food stamps for four weeks
  • A 40% credit on the first $14,000 of wages (up to $5,600) for those who hire vets who received unemployment compensation for longer than six months during the year prior to hiring
  • A 40% credit on the first $12,000 of wages (up to $4,800) to employers who hire vets with service-related disabilities if they are hired within a year of discharge
  • A 40% credit on the first $24,000 in wages (up to $9,600) to businesses that hire veterans with service-related disabilities who have received unemployment payments for longer than six months
  • A credit of as much as $4,000 to employers who pay Reserve and National Guard employees while they are away on active duty for more than 30 days, so long as they’ve been employed for more than 90 days

Joining Forces

First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden created Joining Forces in 2011 to help veterans and their spouses to find jobs — particularly ones around military bases. In addition to providing help finding work, the program assists service members, veterans and their families with health and education concerns.

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 the National Resource Directory 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 as a mutual benefit to veterans and employers that hire veterans. The program pays employers about 6 months of 50% reimbursement of veteran’s salary, and covers costs of tools, equipment, uniforms and supplies at new jobs.

Veteran Affairs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Employment Services Office website offers an assortment of jobs information for veterans. It also provides human resources services through its Feds for Vets program to help former military personnel transition into civilian careers.

Feds for Vets

A U.S. Office of Personal Management online service that provides information and links for veterans looking for work with the federal government.

Non-Government 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.

Hiring Our Heroes

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce funds job fairs across the country for veterans and military spouses. As of June 2015, it has helped 500,000 veterans and military spouses get hired.

Veterans Jobs Mission

Since its founding in 2011, the Veteran Jobs Mission has grown to over 200 companies that hired 292,645 veterans as of October 015. The coalition connects veterans with jobs that match their skills and has contributed to the sharp decline in the veteran unemployment rate.

Heroes to Work Here

Walt Disney Co. has hired more than 6,000 vets through its Heroes to Work Here program since 2012.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

This non-profit organization helps veterans through an initiative called Combat to Career, providing business suits and conducting Smart Job Fairs and Google Resume workshops.

Veterans on Wall Street

Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Bank of America and other large institutional lenders operate the Veterans on Wall Street initiative to train and hire veterans in the financial services industry.

Other Programs

Companies and private-sector coalitions offer a wide assortment of other programs and resources to help veterans in their return to civilian life. Among them are MilitaryHire, Operation IMPACT Network of Champions, G.I. Jobs, VetJobs and Combat to Corporate.

State Programs

Most states have gone out of their way to provide incentives for businesses to employ veterans. Maryland took the lead, enacting legislation to end joblessness among vets by allowing military training and experience to count toward licensing requirements and certifications. Since then, another 32 states have joined in allowing military training and experience to count for licensing and for college credit. Some of the state programs include:

Troops to Trucks

States waive the commercial driver’s license road skills test for veterans who drove certain vehicles in the military. Virginia launched the program, and California and Georgia followed with their own versions.

Helmets to Hardhats

A nationwide program launched in 2002 that allows states to tailor initiatives that help vets find work in the construction industry.

Nurses and ETM Workers

Illinois and other states have programs that allow military medics to become licensed as certified nursing aids or first responders without additional training.

Hiring Preferences

Many states have laws that give veterans preference in state hiring. Arkansas, Washington and Minnesota allow private employers to do the same.

Tax Credits

States including Illinois, Idaho, Alabama offer tax credits to employers who hire veterans.

Obstacles Veterans Still Face

Veterans often turn to jobs that mimic what they did during their military service. They might, for instance, consider law enforcement or fire-fighting. Many don’t look into new fields, opting for low-skilled positions in telemarketing and consumer service.

Veterans also find themselves limited by location, returning to hometowns where employment opportunities are shrinking.

Some employers have preconceived notions about soldiers, thinking that their training makes them combative and possibly disruptive in the workplace. Yet many veterans are accomplished at working in teams, and have often developed exceptional leadership abilities in the military.

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% of employers were deterred from hiring veterans due to the possibility of PTSD.

But veterans who were injured in the service face barriers that can limit the sort of work they can do. Though state and federal laws prohibit discrimination against the handicapped, some disabilities naturally disqualify people from certain kinds of work.

The federal government has resources to help the disabled, including military vets who suffered disabling injuries in the service. The website contains a wide array of information and resources for jobseekers. Also, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy offers special information for disabled vets through its Gold Card Initiative, a program tailored to help those who served in the post-9/11 period.
Another important facet of the job market is making connections: it comes down to 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 his reference’s rank — may be high, an unrecognized name holds less weight in the civilian world.

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

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