Over the last nine weeks, more than 38.6 million Americans have filed unemployment claims as the covid-19 pandemic continues to impact the U.S. economy. Massive layoffs due to the novel coronavirus have caused a historic unemployment rate of nearly 15 percent. Given already heightened underemployment rates, out-of-work military veterans feel that pain acutely, according to Dan Goldenberg, executive director of the Call of Duty Endowment (C.O.D.E.).

C.O.D.E., a foundation backed by video game publisher Activision Blizzard and framed around its Call of Duty series, works with organizations in the U.S. and U.K. to provide jobs to veterans. The organization saw a 50-percent increase in veterans asking for help in March, according to internal data.

“We don’t see this problem, unfortunately, going away any time soon,” Goldenberg said.

Since 2009, C.O.D.E. has raised funds for organizations that seek to find employment for military personnel after their service ends, and it has placed 69,000 veterans in jobs according to their website. The endowment now serves 10 U.S. veterans organizations and, more recently, two U.K. organizations, in an effort to close the unemployment gap, which Goldenberg says predates the current pandemic climate. In a study sponsored by C.O.D.E. and Zip Recruiter, the authors found veterans’ underemployment rates are 15 percent higher than nonveterans. Based on census data, veterans are 50-percent more likely to be self-employed and cumulatively own 2.5 million small businesses.

Part of the issue, according to Goldenberg, a retired Navy captain, is red tape. Medics and hospital corpsman in the Navy, despite having years of experience in the medical field, have to start from square one should they wish to pursue a career in medicine. Without having additional schooling, they’re unable to come out of the military and become an EMT or paramedic. The same goes for truck drivers. While they’re used to driving 18-wheelers in less-than-ideal conditions, they can’t automatically qualify to drive tractor trailers on roads in the U.S. because they haven’t been taught how to reverse the vehicle unassisted. (In the military, two soldiers are always assigned to such vehicles.)

“It’s a field people think is very well-transferrable and it turns out to not be, so much,” said Nathalie Grogan, a research assistant at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “Just because you did something in the military for eight years in very stressful conditions doesn’t qualify veterans for those types of jobs and that surprises a lot of people.”

The six most unemployed types of veterans today served as quartermasters, infantry, mechanics, medics, communications specialists and truck drivers. Despite many of those jobs seemingly being well-suited for post-military positions, veterans still remain unemployed or underemployed.

“People who left the military with years and years of experience doing something specific and valuable and managing under a high budget or a high stress environment, especially if deployments were involved, are suddenly not being qualified for anything beyond a high school diploma,” Grogan said.

Activision Blizzard, which also covers C.O.D.E.’s overhead, made a $2 million donation to the endowment for National Military Appreciation Month in May. Now, Goldenberg’s organization is teaming with “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” developer Infinity Ward to raise additional money to help in this challenge.

Players of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and “Warzone” will have the ability to help the cause by purchasing the upcoming Fearless Pack, which will feature a new character skin and other cosmetics. It will be available via the in-game store starting this weekend with 100 percent of the proceeds directed to C.O.D.E.

The contents of the Fearless Pack are unique, inspired by 2015 Medal of Honor recipient Florent Groberg, who lost part of his leg while protecting his squad from a suicide bomber in Afghanistan. It includes Groberg’s weapon loadout and the uniform worn during his tour, as well as C.O.D.E. emblems, stickers and calling cards. Etched into the in-game weapon is the date of the attack that claimed the lives of four members of his unit: August 8, 2012.

“It’s like the first time you taste chocolate. Your eyes widen up and your heart starts beating really fast,” said Groberg, who noted the game provides him an opportunity to stay connected to his friends still in the military. “You never think you’ll ever be a part of something so cool, but in a way that actually changes lives.”

Since his time in the service, Groberg has become an outspoken advocate for veterans employment. LinkedIn made him spokesperson for veterans programs after he left his Department of Defense post in 2016. Because of his previous work with Gold Star Families and passion for the cause, Groberg was named to Boeing as director of veterans outreach. He quickly worked his way up to become deputy vice president of the aerospace company’s commercial sales and marketing arm.

“It was a perfect convergence of someone who truly is a hero and happens to be an avid fan of the game, and also a nationally outspoken advocate for veteran employment,” Goldenberg said of Groberg’s selection for the Fearless Pack fundraiser.

Groberg and Goldenberg worked closely with Infinity Ward to make sure the pack was as realistic as possible, down to the camouflage pattern of his Army Ranger uniform. By Groberg’s estimation, it’s about 95 percent true to what he wore on that fateful day in the Kunar province of Afghanistan.

“[Call of Duty’s] platform reaches millions and millions of people who have never put on a uniform, that dream of putting on a uniform,” Groberg said. “But they need a better understanding of the real people who are living the call of duty.”

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