Finding a job biggest challenge for vets, survey finds

Posted Aug. 20, 2012, at 7:11 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Despite a continued drop in the unemployment rate among Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans, a new survey reports that more than two-thirds of their post-9/11 generation believe that finding a job is the greatest challenge they face in making the transition to civilian life.

Among the most striking findings of the Veterans’ Employment Challenges study, released last week, is that 44 percent of veterans participating in the poll said they were not ready to make the transition to civilian life.

Veterans facing physical or mental-health issues were twice as likely as others to say they were not ready for the transition. In addition, close to half of those who said they were not ready said they needed more education or technical training. The poll was conducted by Prudential Financial in partnership with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics issued figures this month showing that the unemployment rate in July for Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans fell to 8.9 percent, more than a half-percentage point lower than the previous month. The rate, which was 12.4 percent in July 2011, has dropped for six consecutive months and is not much higher than the national unemployment rate, which was 8.3 percent in July.

But Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for IAVA, cautioned against concluding that unemployment is no longer a problem for the post-9/11 generation of veterans.

“We are noting a positive trend, but the underlying problems haven’t yet been fixed,” he said in an interview Friday.

The online survey of 2,453 veterans and separating service members was conducted in in December and January, before the recent drop in veteran unemployment figures. But Tarantino said the problems identified by survey respondents remain valid concerns.

“We don’t train people very well in how to be civilians again,” he said.

Next to the overall economic problem, veterans participating in the survey said the biggest challenge they face in finding a job is explaining how their military experience translates into civilian employment.

The Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act, signed into law late last year, requires the Labor Department to commission a study on how to translate military skills to civilian equivalents, and to streamline the process by which veterans obtain civilian licenses and certification for their military skills.

Nonetheless, 58 percent of the respondents said they were worried about translating their skills to a business environment, and nearly half were concerned that civilian supervisors who are not veterans do not understand military culture.

“Among the challenges this research confirms for employers and veterans is the need to bridge the perception gap between the skills veterans offer and what employers are looking for,” said Raymond Weeks, vice president for veterans initiatives at Prudential Financial.

In July, President Barack Obama formally announced Transition GPS, a long-awaited overhaul of the military’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP), to help troops leaving the service.

Based on the survey results, IAVA is recommending that the new program be tailored for soldiers based on their disability status, education level and military skills.

Survey respondents gave “lukewarm” ratings to the existing program, with slightly fewer than half of those who participated in TAP seminars saying it helped them reintegrate to civilian life or provided useful employment assistance.

“This is not an easy thing to fix,” Tarantino said. “It’s going to take a while.”

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