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Posted at 05:38 PM ET, 02/16/2012

Sen. Patty Murray: The future veteran workforce


In a talk at a conference on the future of the American workforce, Sen. Patty Murray told business owners to up their HR game when it comes to hiring veterans. Here, Murray answers a question during a news conference following a visit to the Seattle headquarters of Amazon.com last August. (Elaine Thompson - AP)

When soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan began experiencing much higher-than-normal unemployment rates in recent years, the government and private sector responded.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone has held nearly 100 job fairs for veterans and their families in the past year, and the Small Business Administration has backed more than 3,400 loans for veterans. A quick search reveals at least half a dozen Web portals for veterans to search for jobs.

And the veteran-jobs picture does appear to be gradually improving. The unemployment rate for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fell from 15.2 percent to 9.1 percent over the last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

However, some policymakers say they believe that still is not good enough, especially for veterans who are afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions as a result of their service.

Speaking at a GE-sponsored event examining the future of the workforce Thursday in Washington, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, expressed chagrin at the inefficiencies that persist between job-seeking veterans and employers who are eager to hire skilled service-men and women.

“The road home isn’t always smooth, the red tape is often long, and the transition from the battlefield to the work place is never easy,” Murray said.

Murray enumerated the obstacles that persist for young veterans seeking employment:

First, about 11 to 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in the U.S. have post traumatic stress disorder, a condition that can cause hyper-vigilance, flashbacks and other symptoms. The association between the military and mental illness causes some veterans to shy away from noting their service on applications.

“I heard from veterans who said they no longer write that they’re a veteran on their resume because of the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war,” Murray said.

Even if veterans did emphasize their service during their job searches, it’s sometimes hard for non-military HR departments to understand the terminology the military uses. What’s more, veterans may have a hard time articulating how their experiences translate to civilian jobs.

“I talked to veterans who told me that the military spent incalculable hours getting them the skills to do their job in the field, but little time teaching them how to translate those skills into the workplace,” Murray said.

Of course, part of the employment gap is simply because of age — Iraq and Afghanistan veterans skew young, and younger people have higher unemployment rates than older people do. Young male veterans aged 18 to 24 had an unemployment rate of 21.9 percent, which is comparable to the rate of non-veterans, at 19.7 percent.

But part of the problem is systemic — military service often means skipping out on college or other experiences that traditionally give civilian populations a leg up in the labor force, experts say. To help bridge some of those gaps, Murray laid out a series of recommendations for employers to ensure they’re reaching veteran applicants and treating them fairly:

●Companies can train their human resource teams to learn how military skills translate to the company’s work.

●Do like Amazon and Microsoft have and provide transitioning programs for service members. (In addition to providing technology training, for example, Microsoft has a site that helps veterans determine how their military occupational codes translate to jobs with the company.)

●Advertise job openings with Veterans Service Organizations and at local military bases to help connect veterans with jobs.

●Develop an “internal veterans group” within your company to mentor recently discharged veterans.

●Partner with local community colleges and universities in order to create a pipeline of veterans who are using GI bill benefits to get a degree.

●Finally, Murray emphasized that employers should be aware of what PTSD is — and isn’t.

“As we seek to employ more veterans, we need future bosses and co-workers to understand that issues like PTSD or depression are natural responses to some of the most stressful events a person can experience,” she said. “We need them to understand that for those who are affected by these illnesses they can get help, they can get better, and they can get back into their lives.”

By  |  05:38 PM ET, 02/16/2012

 
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