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Why Is the Jobless Rate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans So High?
Georgia's soldiers of the 33th Battalion returning back from Afghanistan walk at the US transit center in Manas, 30 km outside Bishkek, on October 18, 2013. International coalition forces are to exit Afghanistan by the end of next year, leaving local forces to take on fighting the Taliban alone. (Getty Images)

Why Is the Jobless Rate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans So High?

“The Marine Corps trained me but I didn't have the certification the HR people are looking for.”

During a job interview with Long Island Bus, Marine Corps veteran Tireak Tulloch, who had done two tours in Iraq, recalled the senior manager commenting, “You have a lot of experience. This is an entry-level job.”

After a six-month job search that began in 2005, Tulloch, of Brooklyn, N.Y., was in no mood to be picky. While he was the equivalent of a network engineer in the Marines, he did not have the credentialing for the same job in civilian life.

Georgia soldier return Getty Images

While overall veteran unemployment has historically been lower than the national average, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans has been considerably worse than for those who didn't serve in the armed forces -- climbing to 10.1 percent for September, compared to the national unemployment rate of 7.2 percent. Overall veteran unemployment -- not just for post-9/11 vets -- was 6.3 percent for September.

In August, the overall unemployment rate was 7.3 percent, 6.2 percent for all veterans and 10 percent for post-9/11 veterans.

On the plus side for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, those who are employed tend to earn more, according to a March study by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. "However, these same young veterans have higher rates of unemployment compared to their non-veteran counterparts," the study stated. Also several companies have stepped up with initiatives to hire more vets.

A key reason has been credentialing requirements – something 44 states have addressed since 2010 by applying qualifications veterans already have the skills for, and avoiding duplication of training, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This year alone, 31 states enacted laws to expedite licensing and certification process for veterans to reflect their extensive training and experience in various fields such as health care, information technology, commercial transportation and mechanics.

The only states not to have enacted laws, based on NCSL information, are Delaware, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio and Vermont. Proposals in Delaware, Minnesota, Nebraska and Nevada state legislatures to streamline commercial driver's licenses for veterans died. Meanwhile, legislation in the Nebraska to expedite the licensing process for emergency medical technicians and licensed practical nurses also failed.

Sgt. Tulloch was a tactical data network systems specialist in the Marines. Though he had the training and experience in the military to be a network engineer, he didn't have the certification for it in civilian life.

“My struggle was not as tough as some,” Tulloch told TheBlaze. “The Marine Corps trained me but I didn't have the certification the HR people are looking for.”

At the beginning of 2013, about 252,000 post-9/11 veterans were unemployed, according to a report by the President's Council of Economic Advisoes released in February. Every year, between 240,000 and 360,000 service members go into civilian life, “and as we draw down from the war in Afghanistan, the military is expected to separate a million service members over the next several years,” the CEA report stated.

The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was above the average for veterans and national average for 16 consecutive quarters, according to a report released in October 2012 by the Congressional Research Service. The report found that veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq had an average unemployment rate of 10.7 percent from 2008 to 2012. That's compared to 7.4 percent among veterans for the four years and 8.7 percent among non veterans.

The military trains people for 206 different occupations in varying fields from medical, information technology, welding, mechanics, and transportation, said Ted Daywait, the CEO and founder of the online veterans jobs board VetJobs.com.

The problem is that there is a tangled web of about 3,700 different laws and regulations at the federal, state, county and municipal level regarding the licensing process, Daywait told TheBlaze.

In July 2012, Congress passed the Veterans Skills to Jobs Act with broad bipartisan support. The bill was sponsored by Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), and Tim Waltz (D-Minn.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and was signed into law by President Barack Obama. But the law is limited only to federal department and agencies.

Under the law, rather than going through redundant training for jobs they were already trained in while serving in the military, it directs the head of each department and agency to treat military training as sufficient to satisfy certification requirements for a federal license.

The Obama administration has also promoted the "Joining Forces" initiatives, to work with companies in promoting veterans employment.

"The administration has aggressively been involved in an effort to represent our armed forces," White House press secretary Jay Carney told TheBlaze. "Joining Forces has been encouraging and involved in working with companies interested in hiring veterans. That's been a top priority of the administration."

Meanwhile, the Department of Defense established a Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force to help with the issue of credentialing. It has focused on expanding certifications for manufacturing, welding, and engineering as well as medical fields.

“A lot in Congress understand the challenges service members have in transitioning out. The federal government has done a fairly decent job for federal and disabled veterans,” Mark Walker, an Air Force veteran and now deputy director of the national economic division of the American Legion, told TheBlaze. “But the federal government makes up about 15 percent of jobs and about 85 percent are in the private sector.”

While licensing is something that the American Legion began advocating in 1997, only in recent years has it prompted strong reaction in Congress and so many state legislatures, which Walker credits to the large number of veterans entering the job market.

“It's a waste of taxpayer money to spend millions training them in the service and then spend millions more training them with the same skills out of the services,” Walker said. “No one wants a gap in skills that could lead to a safety hazard. That can be addressed with minimal additional training, or a written test.”

The NCSL figures show that 44 states have passed new laws to help veterans apply their skills from 2010 to 2013. A further analysis by the office of Rep. Denham, co-sponsor of the federal legislation, breaks down what states have taken action of specific occupations during the legislative years of 2012 and 2013.

States that enacted laws allowing military veterans to apply their medical training and experience toward certification as an emergency medical technician are Alabama, Alaska, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to the state-by-state breakdown from Denham's office.

In 2012, there were more than 75,000 military medics, with about 10,000 leaving the service that year, according to the White House CEA report. Demand for EMTs and paramedics will increase by 33 percent by 2020, according to the Labor Department. Army medics are already required to pass the EMT national certifications; Air Force medics are not. Most states have additional requirements on top of the national EMT certification. The Defense Department is working to line up some of the training requirements to comply with states. Further, the military also provides training for licensed practical nurses and physicians assistants, but at a lower number.

States that enacted laws allowing military veterans to apply their military medical experience toward certification to be a licensed practical nurse are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming, according to Denham's office.

States that enacted laws applying military experience for commercial drivers licenses and bus driver licenses for veterans who had a record of safe driving of large military vehicles are Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Rhode Island, West Virginia and Wyoming.

This is significant because in 2012, more than 22,000 members of the armed services were in truck driving military occupations, and almost 10,000 of them left the military, according to the White House CEA report. Demand for commercial drivers licenses for trucks and busses will increase by 17.1 percent, or about 300,000 jobs, by 2020, according to the Department of Labor.

Tulloch has remained active with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which held its own job fair in New York last month. As an activist for helping post-9/11 veterans transition back into civilian life, he was also featured in a White House video in November 2011 on the subject of White House initiatives for employing more veterans.

He began his entry-level job with Long Island Bus as a personal computer technician, and was twice promoted, first to a network specialist, then two a network engineer, the equivalent to the position he held in the Marines. In 2009, he took another job with Long Island Railroad as a network engineer.

He explained that veterans by their work ethic are worth an employer taking a chance on.

“Part of the work ethic comes from the Marine Corps,” Tulloch told TheBlaze. “There is no more high pressure environment than a combat zone.”



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