Dr. William W. Doe III
CEO, Veterans Green Jobs
In early September, as the summer season of 2012 comes to a close, the nation and our State will celebrate two federal holidays – Labor Day and Patriot’s Day – which seemingly have little in common. But, at a critical time for our nation’s future, and after a decade of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, the persistent high unemployment rates for returning veterans and the challenges these veterans face with reintegration back into society, give these holidays new meaning – one that is the moral equivalent of war.
Labor Day was promulgated as a national holiday in the late 1800’s to raise awareness of the economic and social contributions of workers in America, and to address the ills and circumstances of the industrialized workforce. Patriot’s Day, a day of memory on the occasion of the September 11th terrorist attacks on our nation, focuses our nation on the recovery from these horrific events – and acknowledges our civil and military responses over the past decade.
Over 2.5 million men and women have served since 9-11 and more than 6,000 have died from these conflicts. Anyone paying attention to the news and the issues surrounding our post-9/11 veterans knows that their unemployment rates are higher (12% in 2011, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Situation of Veterans – 2011). Furthermore, their suicide and homelessness rates continue to rise and far exceed the percentages for the non-veteran population. Colorado is a military-friendly state, with significant active duty military populations in Colorado Springs and Denver, and over 425,000 living veterans. Many service members and their families are returning to Colorado, and many exiting the service from our installations in Colorado are deciding to stay and attend college or seek jobs. Using the post-9/11 GI Bill, over 25,000 student-veterans already attend our four-year and two-year institutions in the State. Much needs to be done to retain them in school and mentor them towards careers so that they can become our next generation of civilian leaders.
In Colorado, as in other States, government, corporate America, philanthropic foundations and the non-profit sector are all trying to help solve the dilemma of veterans’ unemployment – a key factor to successful reintegration and family well-being. But, these multi-sector efforts are often uncoordinated and have not reached the scale necessary to provide the one-on-one career counseling and mentorship needed.
Even with the best efforts from all sectors, it is becoming increasingly clear to those engaged in this fight that our newest veterans need the mentorship, understanding and experience of those who have gone before them. Many veterans are already engaged, but many more are needed – from all generations, from all Branches of the Service, from all ranks, both combat and non-combat veterans. More than 80% of our Colorado veteran population served before 9-11, and thousands of these veterans hold positions of responsibility in industry, government, higher education and non-profits. Despite generational differences and eras of military service, the inter-generational bond of military service, and its civilian equivalent of community service and stewardship, is a powerful anesthetic to the social-cultural, emotional and reintegration challenges facing our newest veterans.
All citizens of good will, but particularly those who have themselves served in the Armed Forces, must take stock of their own talents, work experiences and connections, to reach out to these newest veterans, and help them find their way. Volunteer your time with a veterans’ non-profit, join a veterans’ services organization, or volunteer with the Colorado Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). Donate money to one of these many worthy organizations. Offer an internship or job opportunity to a returning veteran. Reach out and let these returning veterans know there is purpose and livelihoods beyond their military service, and that their skills and values are needed in the civilian world. If ever there was a moral equivalent to war, this Labor Day and Patriot’s Day should be a Call to Action for all veterans.