The unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans has become a national security issue, according to four veterans who have set up an organization to help other service members make the transition back into civilian life.
“If you look at all the military slogans, they’re about joining the military because you will be better off on the other side,” said Mike Haynie, the executive director and founder of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University and a U.S. Air Force veteran, at The Hero Summit, presented by Newsweek and The Daily Beast. But in the face of high unemployment and the mental-health issues some veterans face on their return, he adds “those recruiting campaigns and those measures become pretty shallow.”
“I had to go from being a student before I was deployed to coming back and being a student again,” said Peter Meijer, of the struggles he felt when returning to school after deployment.
Peter joined the Student Veterans of America on the board of directors as a way to provide support in colleges across the country—there are currently 660 active chapters.
“So we do it together,” he said. From issues of acclimation “to issues of mental health, we try to get everyone in the same room talking. So you don’t have a guy who comes back who is older than everyone else and behind everyone and who is alone. We don’t want someone to suffer alone.”
Both Elizabeth Perez-Halperin and Eli Williamson, also panelists, say they set up their organizations with the idea that the best support they could provide veterans was getting them jobs.
Perez-Halperin is the president and founder of GC Green, a general contracting firm that uses a veteran-based workforce and construction solutions for renewable energy projects. Their slogan is:” Getting Green Done with Vets.”
Williamson founded Leave No Veteran Behind, a national organization that provides veterans with educational and job-placement services.
But even with employment opportunities that each panelist helped veterans achieve, they say unemployment and mental issues aren’t the only issues veterans face—discrimination is rampant as well, despite the skills and proven competence many former service members offer employers.
Williamson told of an instance where his organization was trying to place veterans with a company that they had previously worked with.
“They had one question they had to ask but they couldn’t ask,” he said of the company. “So I had to stop them and basically say, “So you want to know if they are going to be [mentally] all right?”
When asked if he thought the question was fair, Williamson said it was not.
"Unemployment of veterans is a national-security issue," said Haynie. Employer discrimination against them, he said, often comes from lack of knowledge about the “one percent of this population [that] has shouldered the burden of 10 years at war.”