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Good job market vital to vets' mental health

Sep. 11, 2012 - 08:50AM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 11, 2012 - 08:50AM  |  
Veterans advocates say not having ajob can create "restlessness" in veterans. Here, the Department of Veterans Affairs hosts a career fair.
Veterans advocates say not having ajob can create "restlessness" in veterans. Here, the Department of Veterans Affairs hosts a career fair. ()
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At a time when the job market for post-9/11 veterans appears to have taken a modest turn for the worse, veterans advocates suggest that having a steady job provides more than just economic stability.

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At a time when the job market for post-9/11 veterans appears to have taken a modest turn for the worse, veterans advocates suggest that having a steady job provides more than just economic stability.

The Labor Department's August unemployment report, released Sept. 7, showed the jobless rate for veterans of all generations fell for the third straight month to 6.6 percent. However, for veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan era, the jobless rate climbed to 10.9 percent in August, up from 8.9 percent in July.

Tom Tarantino of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said the month-to-month changes can fluctuate considerably in either direction because they're derived from a small sample size.

Still, he has concerns about the larger trend of veterans' continued problems getting jobs.

"We probably are a little better off than we were last year, but we have some structural problems that need to be addressed," Tarantino said. "In the military, you have structure, and for some people, getting out can seem like they are falling off a cliff without a net."

Tarantino, also an Iraq War veteran and the IAVA's national policy director, said he had a harder time adjusting after leaving the military than he had after returning home from combat.

"When you're in the military, you have a specific mission and a specific goal, in combat or in other duties," said Ryan Gallucci of Veterans of Foreign Wars. "That can be missing when you first get out. It can be difficult to find purpose and meaning, something a job could provide."

Gallucci, an Iraq War veteran and deputy director of the VFW's national legislative service, said not having a job can create "restlessness" in veterans that, in some cases, can lead to more serious mental health issues.

Going to college on the Post-9/11 GI Bill can be a good step for veterans who leave the military without prospects for a job because it provides stability and a sense of mission, Gallucci said.

But Tarantino warns that in the absence of a clear goal, it's easy to waste limited GI Bill benefits on education that ultimately doesn't help. "You have to look at it and decide, ‘What do I want?' " he said.

The unemployment rate for younger veterans has been cause for concern, prompting political hand-wringing, a flood of job fairs and initiatives aimed at giving veterans a leg up when looking for work.

A White House initiative to encourage private-sector companies to hire veterans and military spouses appears to have exceeded its goal: One year ago, President Obama said he wanted the program, Joining Forces, to result in 100,000 jobs. On Aug. 24, the White House announced that 2,000 businesses had hired 125,000 people and that more jobs could be on the way.

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