The good news is America is bringing its troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan. However, that presents a challenge because a large number of those troops will leave the military upon their return. That shift, along with significant cuts in military spending, means tens of thousands of veterans will be looking for work.
Unfortunately, those veterans have a higher rate of unemployment than the general population — 10.1 percent, compared to 7.2 percent for the general population.
Many of these brave citizens, who put their lives on the line for us, are returning with wounds, both physical and emotional. They must make a difficult transition from the military to civilian life, and the need to find a job in our slow economy makes that transition more difficult. They need our help and understanding.
Many organizations, including the Association of Washington Business and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have launched programs to encourage employers to hire veterans.
Nationally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is spearheading an effort to hire 500,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014. Last Memorial Day, Walmart announced it will hire more than 100,000 veterans over the next five years.
In addition, Walmart’s Military Family Promise program guarantees a job at the nearest store when military personnel and spouses employed by Walmart and Sam's Club are transferred to a different part of the country. The program also guarantees that, if employees called to active duty earn less in military pay, the company will make up the difference.
Just this past week, two Washington state companies announced plans to hire veterans and active-duty spouses.
Microsoft has launched a new pilot program at Saint Martin’s University’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord campus to train active-duty service members transitioning out of service. The company will then place them in entry-level jobs as software testers. And Starbucks announced it will hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years. CEO Howard Schultz says his company also plans to open five stores on or near military bases that will share their profits with the local communities.
These efforts will be needed because the downsizing of our military forces will be felt heavily in our state. JBLM is currently home to 33,645 active duty soldiers. Including Air Force and reservists, the total military population is close to 40,000.
An Army study released early this year suggested that a reduction of 8,000 soldiers from JBLM would cause more than 20,100 military family members to leave the area. The News Tribune reported that a major downsizing like that could also mean the loss of more than 10,000 military contract and private sector jobs.
While cuts of that magnitude may not happen, the Army announced last summer that it will deactivate the 4th Stryker Brigade at JBLM, which has about 4,000 soldiers. JBLM is one of 10 bases in the United States losing brigades in a reorganization that will reduce troop strength in the Army from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2017.
The military downsizing will have a significant impact on our economy, but for the soldiers and their families transitioning out of the service, the impact is immediate: They need jobs. The good thing about this deactivation compared to the Vietnam era is that Americans are more appreciative of our military and willing to support our troops and their families.
Today’s employers recognize the qualities veterans bring to the workplace. They are trained to show up early, leave late, know how to work in teams, how to manage people and materials, and they can adapt to ever-changing environments under demanding pressures.
Hiring veterans and military spouses isn’t just the right thing to do — it’s the smart thing to do.
Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business. For more about AWB, visit http://www.awb.org.