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Editorial: Veteran unemployment down, but issues remain

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | MARCH 25, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released a report showing veteran unemployment has hit a seven-year low at 5.3 percent. 

Considering where that number once was, this is great news. Veterans returning to the country during the financial crisis had a particularly hard time finding jobs. In 2011, the general unemployment rate was 9 percent, and veterans faced 12.4 percent unemployment. That same year, President Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to focus on hiring veterans. This initiative, as well as the growing economy, appears to have eased veteran unemployment.

What must be remembered, however, is that these veterans aren’t just employees but human beings.

They’re human beings who often face more elusive and powerful obstacles than unemployment. Last year’s VA waiting-list revelations were appalling. They’re indicative of broad inefficiencies and outright dysfunctional bureaucracies. The system that sent these men and women abroad to fight or die is the very same system depriving them of medical care.

Fortunately, efforts are being made to address these systems. On Monday, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, presented a bill called the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act, which would guarantee access to mental-health care from other providers if the VA cannot offer them care in a timely manner.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, the projected veteran population is nearly 22 million men and women. These are not all combatants, and many are from the Vietnam and Gulf War eras. It is hard to say what percentages of them have experienced PTSD. Studies have not been conclusive. However, A 2003 reanalysis of data from a report conducted by the National Vietnam Veteran’s Readjustment Study found that four out of five Vietnam veterans experience PTSD symptoms, even 20 to 25 years after experiencing combat.

Another problem with capturing these statistics is that PTSD and depression often manifest a year or more after deployment. The numbers range, with 5 to 30 percent of veterans that will experience PTSD. Military counselors often contend the number is much higher. Suffice to say, millions of veterans have a serious affliction to their mental health that can lead to severe, even deadly outcomes. 

The effect of war on the psyche of our veterans is a crucial facet of their health that cannot be ignored. Untreated PTSD can lead to aggression, domestic violence, depression, or suicide. Our veterans deserve better.

Yes, the federal government is employing veterans, and their skills are valuable assets. But are they being hired in the private sector or for civilian careers? The Schultz Family Foundation and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families have started initiatives to train veterans in civilian trades. These programs should be encouraged and adopted, both in the private and public sector.

Education is another major problem for veterans. The youngest veterans are affected the most and have the hardest time finding jobs because of it. 

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes government initiatives should not only help repair the psychological damage veterans face but also help them expand their knowledge further. This would make transitions into the information economy much easier. 

While the numbers on veteran unemployment are positive, there is still much to be done. And there’s much to be desired from the systems that are in place to support them.


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