Affirmative Action for Our Troops

It is the veteran, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.

It is the veteran, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the veteran, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.

It is the veteran, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.

It is the veteran, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.

It is the veteran, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.

It is the veteran who salutes the flag.

It is the veteran who serves under the flag, whose coffin is draped by the flag.

Eternal rest grant them O Lord,

And let perpetual light shine upon them.

--Author Unknown

The mantra goes something like this: "I love our troops. Hate war. But love our troops." OK. To those people making that statement, I say this: "If you love our troops so much, then give them a job if you are in a position of authority to do so or give money to some company or organization that recruits veterans, especially combat veterans, or at least trains them to get hired. That's putting your money where your mouth is. Otherwise, it's all talk."

Don't get me wrong. It's perfectly fine to give to other veterans organizations that help our armed services personnel such as The Wounded Warrior Project or the USO (two outstanding institutions). Those organizations desperately need our help. But what vets leaving the service also need when they come home is a job. With the wind-down of our military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, there will be hundreds of thousands of armed forces rotating back to the states. Therefore, one of the major issues for the vet returning home is: "What jobs are available to me so I can provide for my family?" The answer to that question currently is not encouraging.

Our economy is in the tank, and the politicians, being politicians, are in the tank too. Just look at the poll numbers about how our elected officials in Congress are doing their jobs (63% rate them poor, 25% rate them fair in a recent Rasmussen poll) to reinforce that idea. So, jump starting this economy and ratcheting up employment any time soon by the politicians is doomed to perpetual political infighting and no practical sense. Veterans entering the workplace in this mess are at a disadvantage from the get go primarily because they have been away from regular employment for an extended period of time. As a matter of fact, their unemployment numbers are higher than in the general population. According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the past ten years, veterans who left military service have an unemployment rate of 11.7%. Compare that to the current overall unemployment rate of 9.0%.

Captain Aloysius Boyle, USMC, wrote a piece for on November 11 detailing the problem. Here is what he said about the Obama administration's response and his listing of the names of organizations established to help the returning vet:

"There are two pieces of legislation coming from Washington. The Hire Heroes Act invests in a study that would effectively translate military skills to civilian equivalents. The Veterans Opportunity to Work Act intends to catalyze veteran employment, training and job placement. Additionally, this past August, the president unveiled a strategy providing tax breaks to organizations which hire veterans.

"The White House proposals, similar to other initiatives discussed in Congress in recent years, would provide businesses a $2,400 tax credit for hiring any unemployed veteran, a $4,800 tax credit for hiring a veteran who has been out of work for at least six months, and a $9,600 tax credit for hiring a veteran with a service-connected disability who has been out of work for six months. Furthermore, the post 9/11 GI Bill has been tremendous in providing the possibility of higher education to prepare our servicemen and women for job opportunities. The original GI Bill was instrumental in the lives of our 'greatest generation,' enabling them to pursue higher education, enter and contribute to the workforce, and spark the economic boom of that era.

"However, just like a military operation, it needs to be a joint effort and we cannot rely on policies from Washington alone. There are other 'weapons' in our arsenal that help communicate how a veteran would fortify any corporation, thereby creating public awareness and enabling the skills our veterans have garnered in training and combat. Helmets to Hard Hats connects veterans with promising careers in construction fields. Feds Hire Vets helps military personnel find jobs in the federal government. The Veterans on Wall Street initiative is dedicated to facilitating former military personnel with business opportunities in the financial service industry.

"While these are very specific, there are also organizations like that offer transitional services for life after the military in a variety of fields. Furthermore, there are nonprofit organizations that offer other various opportunities and intermediary services like Wall Street War Fighters, Travis Manion Foundation, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and Hire Heroes USA."

As reported by Michael A. Fletcher in his October 16 article Veterans Unemployment Outpaces Civilian Rate on the Washington Post/Bloomberg website, government incentives, such as tax credits, may not be the answer:

"But employers say such financial incentives for hiring veterans would not address the heart of the problem.

"Lionel Batty, vice president of corporate research at GrafTech International, which makes graphite materials integral to products such as smartphone batteries and solar panels, said his firm is moving to hire more veterans, in part by trying to better understand their experiences. But, he said, tax credits have nothing to do with that effort.

" 'We'll take them, but we don't hire people because of tax credits,' he said. 'We do what's right for our business.' "

Here's Captain Boyle on the value of a veteran to any enterprise:

"Since taking that first oath, the government has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in training service members for the most complex and challenging scenarios. These men and women are defined by a shared code of conduct, world-class training tested and proven in the most volatile environments. Leadership, discipline, decisiveness, accountability and ingenuity are a few of the skills taught and required for success in the 'University of the U.S. Military.' The moral and ethical standards, the harsh training conditions, and the unforgiving world of combat where risk and gain can equal life and death have prepared our military for future leadership in and out of the service. The skills acquired in this unique environment make veterans an incredible resource that would enhance any organization."

So, how can we help our returning heroes get employed in this great recession? Training programs for careers in industry is certainly one way with organizations like Veterans on Wall Street referenced above. Fixing the economy so that there are more jobs is another. That could take a while given the intransigence in Congress and the reluctance of businesses to invest with all the talk of tax increases, the cost of Obamacare, and ridiculous government regulations.

But here is one thing, probably a pipe dream given the nature of our politics, that should be written into law for the whole country to follow: Combat veterans with an honorable discharge who are qualified for a job must move ahead of the line of qualified candidates for that job. This means ahead of African-Americans, Latinos, disabled, women, and Aleuts among other protected classes of citizens. And veterans without combat experience should be placed second in line. As a country, we owe them that. It's not about "leveling the playing field" or counteracting discrimination. It is about respect for those who put their life on hold for us and in many cases put their life and limb in jeopardy to protect our freedoms. Read the poem at the beginning of this article to get an idea of how much we owe them. Going to the head of the line is the least we can do.