The 2 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home to the worst labor market in generations and are having a harder time than most finding work, federal data show.
The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans was 10 percent in November, compared with 9.1 percent for nonveterans, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment rates for combat veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been higher than the overall rate since at least 2005, according to the bureau.
Top military officials emphasize that veterans have access to an array of programs to help them find work, including preferences for government jobs, guaranteed interviews with large employers and tuition reimbursement and stipends for college.
Still, analysts offer several reasons why newly returned combat troops often struggle to find work. For one, the types of skills that troops hone during war — teamwork, mission focus, the ability to operate under extreme pressure — are often misunderstood or undervalued by employers.
In addition, more than one in five recent combat veterans claim service-related disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
That has left veterans burdened with a complicated legacy: Although the public admires their service, it also sees combat veterans as prone to mental illness, substance abuse and violence.
Some analysts say that stigma is one reason that veterans often earn less than comparable workers — a gap that lingers long after they leave active duty.
In recent years, the federal government has bolstered aid for veterans seeking to further their education. The post-Sept. 11, 2001, GI Bill provides combat veterans more assistance with college tuition, as well as stipends for books and living expenses.
Meanwhile, the Defense, Veterans Affairs and Labor departments offer skills training, assessment and other services to help veterans get jobs. Last year, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing offices in federal agencies responsible for identifying job opportunities for veterans.