According to data recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS), while the overall jobless rate in the U.S. has declined from 7.3 percent in July of 2013 to 6.2 in July of 2014, the jobless rate for veterans over the same time period has only seen a small decrease. So far, the veteran unemployment rate in 2014 has not been keeping pace with the general economic recovery. According to the USBLS report, in July of 2014, seven percent of all unemployed workers in the U.S, one in 14, were veterans.
The total number of veterans in the civilian labor force (both employed and unemployed) has dropped so far in 2014, from 10.9 million in July 2013, to 10.5 million today. 87 percent of working veterans are male, 13 percent are female. The number of employed veterans has decreased from 10.2 million to 9.9 million, while the number of unemployed veterans has also decreased from 702,000 to 638,000. While most labor analysts hail these job statistics as an improvement, veterans advocates point to a wide range of hiring issues, such as hidden discrimination and skill transfer, that are hindering veterans in their search for employment.
While it is illegal to discriminate against veterans, some recent veterans have reported a special scrutiny during interviews regarding their potential for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Veterans advocacy groups point out that hiring managers are influenced by depictions of PTSD in film and may believe veterans have a greater potential to be emotionally damaged and disturbed because of war-time experiences. They fear that veterans may “snap” and go into a rage, like they see in movies. A 2012 study by the Center for New American Security in Washington D.C. found that more than half of the hiring managers in large companies like Walmart, Target and Bank of America expressed reservations about hiring veterans because of their perception of PTSD issues. According to the study, one in three hiring managers called a PTSD diagnosis an impediment to hiring a veteran.
An estimated 5 to 20 percent of Gulf War-era II veterans (those that served from September of 2001 to the present) have some form of PTSD. The VA reported in March of 2014 that over 340,000 veterans have visited VA hospitals on PTSD related issues, but only a percentage of these have filed disability compensation claims. Veterans advocates point out that the condition of veterans with PTSD is no greater or worse than the 7.7 million Americans who also suffer the disorder because of some trauma in their lives.
With the downsizing of American military presence in Afghanistan, more Gulf War-era II veterans are entering the workforce. According to the USBLS, since July of 2013, an additional 300,000 Gulf War-era II veterans have entered the labor rolls. In July of 2014, 2.2 million Gulf War-era II and 2.6 million Gulf War-era I veterans (those that served between August of 1990 and August of 2001) were employed.
Veterans advocacy groups worry that PTSD related misconceptions are contributing to the increase in the Gulf War-era II veteran unemployment rate, which saw the greatest increase of all veteran groups from last year. In July of 2013, there were 166,000 unemployed veterans from that era. In July of 2014, that number jumped to 228,000. More than half of all Gulf War-era II veterans reported by USDLS are between the ages of 25 and 34.
In comparison, the number of unemployed Gulf War-era I veterans decreased from 141,000 in July of 2013 to 132,000 in 2014. Veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam saw a similar decrease in unemployment numbers, from 195,000 in 2013 to 130,000 in July of 2014. While these groups saw decreases in the total number of unemployed, their totals are still higher than the national average.
The release of the July 2014 veteran job numbers by the USBLS is sure to bring focus by veterans advocacy groups on the unemployment rate of Gulf War-era II veterans. As more Afghanistan veterans transition into civilian life every year, and the effects of the recent veterans health bill come to fruition, it is widely expected that the number of PTSD related diagnoses will increase.
By Steve Killings