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The Reasons for the High Unemployment Rate for Veterans

Updated on January 8, 2018
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Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.


The unemployment rates for veterans who have served since 2001 have been stubbornly stuck at several percentage points above that of the national average.

According to the BLS, the unemployment rate for male Gulf War-era II veterans was 8.8% in 2013, higher than the rate for male nonveterans, which was 7.5%.

Why is the unemployment rate for veterans worse than average?

Veterans are simply part of the crowd of job-seekers, and they are considered less desirable than many others for a variety of reasons.
Veterans are simply part of the crowd of job-seekers, and they are considered less desirable than many others for a variety of reasons. | Source

Disabilities of All Types

Veterans have historically reintegrated into the work force upon their return from war. Historical injuries could include lost limbs or sensory impairment. Modern warfare improved survival rates but left head injuries with a legacy of memory loss and post traumatic stress disorder in its wake. Worries of PTSD showing up after a healthy appearing vet is hired can also contribute to the difficulties of returning vets finding a job.

While only a small percentage of veterans have a cognitive or mental impairment due to the war, fear of dealing with veterans who are disabled in this way result in reluctance to hire veterans.

The federal government has tried to offset these matters by pushing quotas for the employment of veterans, especially disabled veterans, by defense contractors. However, it hardly makes a dent in the unemployment rate for veterans.

Limited Opportunities in the Sectors that Traditionally Hired Them

About one in five veterans without a disability works in public service, a number that rises to one in three for disabled veterans. However, diversity mandates put ethnic minorities, women and other favored groups ahead of disproportionately white males that served in combat. Defense contractors have a strong history of hiring veterans, disabled or not, but their employment has suffered under defense cutbacks. While the federal government has made an effort since Gulf War 2 to prioritize hiring of disabled veterans, non-disabled veterans are otherwise competing with many other constituencies for federal jobs.


Even returning veterans who are physically whole return to a personal life in shambles. Marriages may need to be mended. The financial stress of lower income while deployed can result in soldiers needing to clean up a financial mess upon their return. This can reduce the productivity of returning veterans. The fear of this reduced productivity can lead employers to choose other candidates instead.

Deployments Past and Present

Employers have typically been reluctant to hire veterans for fear of losing them to deployments. This is especially true for veterans in the reserves who could be called up on a moment’s notice. The Gulf War demonstrated that the military reserves were not just a weekend warrior exercise but could take someone away from their job and family for a year or more.

Repeat deployments of military reservists in Iraq and Afghanistan have created havoc for employers who cannot plan on when key employees will return. Employers may also be legally required to pay for health insurance and differential pay between the civilian pay and the military pay rate for deployed soldiers. Employers bore the cost of losing valuable employees while often paying salary and benefits along with replacement personnel.

The sad result is their reluctance to hire veterans who have returned in an effort to prevent a repeat of that experience. Veterans who are not in the reserves may still face discrimination from employers who do not want the risk of losing veterans in stop-loss orders or reenlistment.

No Longer the Measure of a Man

Military service no longer distinguishes those with leadership potential or management potential; that credential has shifted to the MBA.

Military service may provide technical training, but the military credentials are no longer universally accepted in the workplace. Time spent in the military is work experience, but it is no longer seen as demonstration of superior work ethic, life skills or leadership ability.

This has resulted in military experience no longer leading to preferences in hiring except with federal contractors, and even hurting job seekers since the military's credentials are not readily recognized as comparable to industry ones.


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