The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 13.3 percent OEF/OIF-era veteran unemployment rate  for the month of June, up over a full percentage point from 12.1 percent in May. Nearly 260,000 OEF/OIF-era veterans were unemployed last month while nationwide the unemployment rate remained almost the same at 9.2 percent. Bottom line: efforts to reduce OEF/OIF-era veterans’ unemployment cannot come soon enough.
These unemployment numbers come a week after the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee marked up the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 (S. 951)  and a day after the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs released the Veteran Opportunity to Work Act of 2011 (H.R. 2433) . The Hiring Heroes and VOW Acts are part of a broader campaign that brings together government, private industry and community groups to lower the OEF/OIF veteran unemployment rate by Veterans Day 2011. As these bills move forward, it is critical that their most important elements remain intact to ensure that our newest veterans get the employment support and resources they need.
Two essential components of the Hiring Heroes and VOW Acts include:
In making these changes, our country will move one step closer to creating an environment where OEF/OIF veterans are welcomed into the civilian workforce - an achievable goal that will go a long way towards lowering new veterans’ unemployment.
In 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics asked veterans about their experience with the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) . Forty-five percent of those veterans surveyed did not attend any TAP presentations. When those who attended were asked how the program could be improved, their number one answer was to make TAP mandatory. Making TAP mandatory would ensure that separating service members receive the information, training and guidance they need to successfully transition into the civilian workforce.
But making TAP mandatory is not enough - it must also be more effective and relevant. The program should be tailored to meet the needs of various types of veterans. As IAVA Legislative Fellow Marco Reininger recently testified  before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: “The goal of TAP should be to ask the service member ‘What are your employment or entrepreneurial goals?’ and then provide a detailed plan on how to achieve them.”
OEF/OIF veterans are facing significant challenges translating the experience they have acquired during their service into the skills and certifications relevant for the private sector. The Hiring Heroes and VOW Acts would call for studies on how military occupational specialties translate into equivalent civilian career fields in terms of hard and soft skills. Currently, veterans with extensive experience in everything from operating heavy equipment to flying jets lack the official certifications and licenses needed to qualify for civilian jobs. Many combat medics, for example, are trained to perform the functions of paramedics. Yet, when they get home, some states do not even allow them to drive an ambulance. At the same time, service members gain critical leadership, problem solving skills and time management during their service, but do not know how to explain those experiences to employers who have not served. Although just a first step in addressing the challenges of translating military experience, the studies called for by the Hiring Heroes and VOW Acts will help ease the transition home for millions of veterans.
As today’s unemployment numbers demonstrate, OEF/OIF veterans face significant challenges in entering the civilian workforce. Through improved and mandatory TAP and an evaluation of translating military work experience, the Hiring Heroes and VOW Acts will help reduce OEF/OIF veteran unemployment. Combined with efforts by private companies and community groups, such as the recent Veterans on Wall Street  conference and Chamber of Commerce hiring fairs, we can work to eliminate OEF/OIF veteran unemployment in the United States.
To learn more about the Hiring Heroes and VOW Acts, IAVA’s Combat to Career campaign or ways to support veteran employment, visit our Combat to Career HQ .
Laura Smith is a Summer Research Intern at IAVA in Washington, D.C. She just received her M.A. from the Graduate School of Public & International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. Laura is the proud sister of two Navy officers and the daughter of a Navy veteran. Follow her on Twitter at @LKSinDC .