Monday, July 11, 2011

The Bleak Reality For Our Nation's Finest

I came across this article in The Los Angeles Times this morning:

Veterans and Unemployment

I am included in the "Gulf War era-II veterans."  Though I'm not technically unemployed as I'm not actively seeking employment at the moment.  But that should change within the next 6-8 months and I look to jump back into the workforce. 

The statistics are intimidating.  The US unemployment rate was 9.2% in June 2011.  According the the article, for military veterans it was 13.3%.  The article states that one of the problems is that most military veterans don't have the degrees that employers are seeking. 

The degree issue is a tough one.  I can say with all honesty that when I was enlisted ten years ago, there was a high importance placed, not on working toward a college degree, but on standing out among my peers and excelling among things like making rank and earning qualifications.  These ranks and qualifications mean very little to prospective employers in the civilian world.  This proved very frustrating for me as I knew all along that I was getting out of the military.  I wanted to start working toward a degree but I wasn't able to start until 2005, at the tail end of my service.  Even then, saddled with two young children and a dwindling GI Bill, I was only able to earn my Associates Degree at the time. 

The military made some strides toward amending this.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill enacted recently, added 12 additional months of paid tuition toward my college education.  That's great news for me! 

But here's where I differ from most veterans seeking employment.  My husband is still active duty.  We can survive off of one income, and we have for the last five years.  I don't have to work and we are very blessed in that regard. Our medical expenses are completely covered. I can't imagine being an E-3, 4, or 5 and trying to support my entire family, without a college degree and only a few years of military experience.

Some military experience can count toward college credits but not all, and it doesn't replace a degree.   

Within the comments section of the article, Gogogto said:
Let's start by giving veterans preferential admission to all public universities. 

Agreed!  Why are public universities not greatly lowering the cost for a veteran's tuition?  Why are there not more distance classes offered through these public universities?  Why are most distance classes offered only through expensive private schools that rob veterans blind of their precious GI Bill funds?  Yes, there are some public universities that offer discounted rates but that's just not enough.  Most veterans need to work some hours to supplement income while they are in school.  I believe if there were more laws for public universities to offer better programs to veterans we could equip these former Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen with the education needed to succeed in the civilian job sector.  With college tuition higher than ever, it often feels impossible to enroll in college and work at the same time. 

It might be easy for mainstream civilians to say, "Well, just stay in the military and don't get out!  Get to that 20-year retirement."  Here's the problem with that:  The Navy is downsizing.  They are kicking people out left and right.  These are people serving honorably, top performers even.  Not every service member has a choice as to whether they are currently seeking employment.  Veterans with PTSD and other medical issues have an even greater stress on them as they battle through the system to get coverage for physical and emotional problems. 

I am not one of those people who feels personally entitled to the easy way out.  I'm not saying all veterans should be entitled to every benefit and grant money under the sun.  But let's prioritize the needs of veterans and their desire for a good education.  The GI Bill needs to be more easily accessible for military members while they are still serving so they can get a leg up before they transition out.  There is no easy answer for this problem.  It's going to take a lot of money (of which there is little) time (of which most people don't have a lot of) and cooperation on the veteran and civilian companies part to fix this. Sadly, the sacrifices don't always end with service and a lot of veterans are learning this the hard way.  Our nation's veterans deserve so much better.   

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