Game developer's newest 'Call of Duty' helps veterans find jobs

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By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 9, 2009

A video game company is donating $1 million on Tuesday to set up a foundation to help veterans find employment, organizers announced.

Activision Blizzard, which produces the popular Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk franchises, said its Call of Duty Endowment (CODE) will support other groups that assist veterans with their careers.

Unemployment may have hit double digits in the nation last week, but for veterans, finding a job has always had its challenges. The unemployment rate among people who served in the military since 2001 was 11.6 percent in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Other government and private studies show that the percentage of unemployed veterans has been historically higher than the percentage among civilians. Eighteen percent of veterans who left the military in the past one to three years were unemployed, according to a 2008 Department of Veterans Affairs employment survey.

Of those veterans who had found work, 25 percent earned less than $21,840 per year, the VA study said. Fifty-eight percent of recent veterans worked in the private sector and 36 percent had government jobs, according to the study.

"The joblessness rate that [veterans] should have should be far less than the national average, not more," said Activision Blizzard chief executive Bobby Kotick. "How do you expect people to actually join the military if when they leave the military they can't integrate back into the free market they're supposed to be protecting?"

The new foundation is one of several private and government-backed programs addressing the mental and economic challenges that veterans and their families face. On Monday, President Obama is set to sign an executive order establishing a federal Council on Veterans Employment, as well as veterans employment offices at most federal agencies.

Finding employment may be easier in the public sector, the VA study suggested, noting that military officers and service members with college degrees were more likely to work in the public sector, indicating that the private sector is not readily employing them.

Private-sector employers interviewed for the VA study said some recent veterans could not quickly adapt to the profit-making world, and the study acknowledged that "service members do perform their duties within tightly defined skill sets and are not working towards creating a profit" during their military tenure.

The study encouraged more business training for veterans, and employers suggested the development of a national portfolio that could help them identify veterans qualified for various jobs. To help match employers with qualified veterans, Kotick recruited several prominent retired military leaders for CODE's board, including Army Gen. James "Spider" Marks.

"The fact that industry can complement the efforts of the government to really provide assistance is wonderful," Marks said. "It doesn't replace it, it's a partnership in an effort to provide a full canvas of options."

Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, welcomed any effort to help recent veterans, saying his group also plans to devote more attention to the issue next year.

"Think of all the economic struggles you're dealing with, but then do it after two or three deployments after 9/11," he said.

"There's no place for me to send vets if they need a job," Rieckhoff added. "There's no one-stop shop where the guy who owns a 7-Eleven can put up a job for a vet living in the same town."

The military's predominantly male makeup falls squarely into Activision Blizzard's preferred 18- to 35-year-old male demographic. The military has started using video games to train recruits, and service members often spend their down time with game consoles in hand. Activision Blizzard regularly donates video games and gaming consoles to the military through the USO, and the donations have helped the company identify and hire veterans who are interested in the gaming industry.

The foundation will make its first donation of $125,000 to the Paralyzed Veterans of America to help open a vocational rehabilitation center, the company said.

"These are super-capable people," Kotick said. "To the extent that you can put them on track to develop more skills, the development potential that we've identified is extraordinary."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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