Top Employers Drafted to Give Vets Jobs, With No Corporate Perks Other Than Serving Their Country
Christina Watkins completed two deployments in Iraq before she returned to California to pursue a master’s degree. Upon graduating, even with years of military and academic achievement behind her, Watkins couldn’t even land a barista position at Starbucks.
Like 722,000 unemployed veterans, Watkins struggled through the job hunt because “like many veterans, I had a lot of skills that just didn’t translate on paper,” she said Monday. Veteran services such as job-skills workshops helped her translate her military experience into a civilian occupation.
“I stand before you today employed,” Watkins said triumphantly at a press conference on the steps Los Angeles City Hall on Monday.
Her success is one that Mayor Eric Garcetti is hoping to multiply thousands of times over in the next few years with a new hiring initiative that aims to employ 10,000 veterans in the Los Angeles area by 2017.
The effort is a collaboration with at least 100 companies, from Coca-Cola to Southern California Edison, which have pledged to prioritize veteran hiring. Other cities are taking note of the program because it isn’t offering costly additional perks to the companies involved, Garcetti said. Serving their country and securing a quality employee is incentive enough.
“As these troops return home, they need more than a smile and a hug,” said Garcetti Monday. “Our veterans are the best employees you can find.”
The burden of providing vets with the services they need and deserve may fall increasingly on regional programs, such as the one in Los Angeles, as national programs grapple with high demands. The Department of Veterans Affairs is “starved” for resources, Garcetti said.
An internal audit released on Monday revealed that approximately 57,000 military patients waited 90 days or longer for their first medical appointment with the VA, well over the goal of 14 days. VA officials cited technical problems with outdated software, as well as faulty leadership, as the main causes of delay. A portion of VA staff reported being pressured to change scheduling data to indicate shorter wait times than actually existed.
Veterans are easily adaptable and often have the drive and technical skills to fulfill a range of civilian jobs, Garcetti said. Although the unemployment rate among veterans has dropped to 6.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the struggle for work is amplified among younger veterans and those who served recently. For veterans between 18 and 24, the unemployment rate was a staggering 21 percent in 2013.
“You’ve given a lot to us. It’s time for us to give something to you,” the mayor said to the rows of veterans standing behind him as the Los Angeles press conference.
The U.S. is still recovering from the recession, and throngs of veterans will continue to return home from Afghanistan, the longest war the country has ever faced and one expected to end in the next few years.
A slew of national programs have been created to battle vet unemployment. In 2011, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce created a countrywide “Hire Our Heroes” program that combines online resources with job fairs to place military veterans and their spouses in quality jobs. In 2013, private corporations including Starbucks and Hilton Worldwide pledged to each hire 10,000 veterans or spouses of active military personnel.
Veteran advocates at Monday’s event said that even if there were enough jobs to go around, simply providing the opportunity won’t get veterans back to work. These ex–military personnel face a unique set of hurdles when reentering the workforce, where the culture of an office job can feel like a drastic departure from the front lines. Many grapple with lingering mental or physical health issues that can define the scope of their work, and it can be a struggle to find employers who understand the distinct challenges veterans face—as well as their strengths and value.
Veterans can’t just be hired to fill a quota; they should be placed in positions with longevity and purpose, said Anthony Hassan, director of the Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans. Hassan is a veteran, and he said that employment keeps people out of homelessness, helps stabilize mental health, and gives foundation to a military family.
Twenty-two veterans kill themselves every day, said Hassan. Employment can give veterans a sense of purpose, power, and worth.
“Ultimately, a job will save a life,” Hassan said.
For Watkins, the vet who finally found work, her new job helps her pay bills while she pays it forward: She is a career development specialist at the Salvation Army, where she helps veterans prepare for and find civilian jobs.