The good news is that unemployment numbers for younger veterans are declining, from a high of 20% in 2012 to 7.3% in June 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, these numbers are higher than national averages for the 18-24 year old demographic. I’ve been scratching my head over this for some time, primarily because I have known so many young men and women in the service who left after one four-year enlistment to reenter civilian life. The stats tell me they have not competed well for jobs, doing less-well, sometimes significantly so, than their peers who did not serve in the military. I don’t understand this because, as a whole, they are fantastic people! They are disciplined, they show up and work hard, they have worked in demanding environments, they know how to perform as a member of a team… I could go on and on. These traits seem in short supply among their civilian peers. We’ve recently had skilled trades workers at our home as we renovate. They are all behind in their work schedules because they can’t find even unskilled helpers willing to work construction jobs. This is the same demographic! We ought to try to understand the recent drop in the unemployment rate, both in terms of questioning the stats themselves, but also looking for causation. Is it the more universal attendance at Transition Assistance Programs (TAP)? Maybe these programs are better preparing vets for entering civilian life with help translating military jobs into civilian lingo, like “Chief of Police,” instead of “Chief, Security Forces.” My own tap experience was excellent, particularly the help I got constructing a resume’, as well as fully understanding the veteran’s benefits I was entitled to. I also wonder how effective the various private and public sector “Jobs for Vets” programs are? The private sector efforts seem particularly real, with actual goals for vet hiring. How about this for a slogan – “Want to thank a Vet? Save the ribbon – give ’em a job!” Sometimes, I cringed when I saw a young service member leave, partly because they were great troops I hated to lose, but also because they seemed unprepared to me. And when they had young families in tow, I was particularly concerned. Some of them were unrealistic about their prospects entered the civilian work force, others has not taken advantage of off-duty education and training available while they were in the service. I remember hoping they had strong family safety nets “back home” because they were going to need them. Still, I thought, they have tremendous VA benefits to fall back on right? The post 9/11 G.I Bill is one generous piece of legislation, arguably more so than the original G.I Bill after World War II. Remember, that legislation changed America, enabling an entire generation of Americans to attend college who never would have been able to before. The current version does the same for college and job training, even extending the benefit to spouses and children! Many of the young men and women joining the military today do so because college was just not their cup of tea, or because they didn’t have a clue how to pay for it. The GI Bill takes both groups into account, paying for traditional colleges and a wide variety of jobs training. You could even become a Saddle Maker! (I’m thinking about this one myself if the writing gig doesn’t work out). So, even if employers don’t value military experience (out of ignorance), the vets can gain new, marketable skills at taxpayer expense. If they are not, why not? It might be that many of them are starting families really early, and acquiring a lifestyle (and accompanying debt) they don’t feel they can sustain within the GI Bill framework. Maybe it would help if they were counseled far earlier in their military career in addition to the end. Tell them its okay to be a poor starving college student – but BTW they can do it, especially with the VA’s help, if they make smart choices early. I hope the trend of improvement continues. I know that if I was an employer, I’d fall over myself hiring vets, not in gratitude, but because they are great employees.