Iraq and Afghanistan veterans' unemployment rates soar above national average

Over 40,000 veterans occupy Washington, D.C. during the Great Depression, demanding what they need to survive.

The author is a former Marine Corps infantryman who served in Iraq.

Between the rising civilian unemployment numbers, the heightened costs for education and an economic recession that has no end in sight, young adults have been flooding into military recruitment stations looking for jobs, education benefits and health care. And from the minute they step foot in the door, they are coerced, lied to and promised job skills that “will serve you for the rest of your life” by recruiters.

Recruiters use many tactics to persuade young adults into the military. However, one of the most prominent forms of persuasion is the promise of a better life with more opportunities after the military.  It may be very easy for a young adult to park their car next to a line of cars with "support our troops" bumper stickers on them, walk into a recruiting station and believe this lie. 

However, with the recent release of the current unemployment figures for veterans, it has become even clearer that the idea that life gets easier after the military is a complete fallacy. As of January 2011, the unemployment rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was 15 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is nearly double the national unemployment average of 9 percent.

The numbers show that if you served in Iraq or Afghanistan, you are far less likely to be able to find a job than an average civilian—so much for those valuable, life-long job skills.

The causes for this wave of unemployment among young veterans are quite clear: Veterans are not a government priority. While soldiers spend hours field-stripping rifles, sleeping in holes and giving their lives following orders, their basic education and job training is completely disregarded. 

The fact is, the vast majority of jobs in the military do not transfer into the civilian work force. Additionally, when our soldiers return home from the wars, their physical and mental health take a back seat to their preparation for another deployment.

This complete lack of care leads many veterans, especially those with families, with no other option than to reenlist. Facing unemployment, criminally negligent health care services provided by the VA and absolutely no civilian job training, many veterans have no other option than to stay in the military. Many veterans have been redeployed back to the wars for their sixth and seventh tours. Many combat veterans have spent more time in combat in the past eight years than with their families. 

This epidemic of unemployment could not have come at a worse time for veterans. Homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse and suicide rates among veterans have increased every year since the beginning of the occupations. In the past two years more active-duty troops lost their lives from suicide than the wars. 

It is not the unemployed Iraqi who struggles to feed his family that we should be fighting. It is not the impoverished Afghan farmer who tries to survive without basic necessities that we should be fighting. Veterans have been betrayed by the millionaires who walk the halls of Congress and send us to kill and be killed so that Wall Street can turn a profit.

Our veterans' greatest enemies are not found in Iraq or Afghanistan, but right here in our capital city —the ones responsible for mounting unemployment, rising cost of health care, climbing tuition costs, record foreclosures and evictions, and the gutting of basic and essential social services. They have proven that they do not care about us. We can only rely on each other. 

We can fight back

In 1932, in the midst of a deep economic crisis like the one we’re in today, countless veterans were then, too, experiencing disproportional rates of unemployment. And they fought back. Over 40,000 World War I veterans and their families, known as the “Bonus Army,” marched on Washington demanding to immediately receive the compensation, or “bonus,” that Congress had voted in 1924 to give all WWI vets.

The World War Adjusted Compensation Act of 1924 had awarded bonuses to the veterans in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. The unemployed veterans knew they could not wait until 1945, and they marched from all over the United States to Washington, D.C., to demand the immediate cash payment of their bonuses. They refused to leave until their demands were met and set up camp. Thousands upon thousands of honorably discharged veterans occupied Washington, D.C., because they, too, had been kicked to the curb by the U.S. government. They were jobless, hungry and without a decent living for their families.

The U.S. government smashed the veterans’ occupation with all-out violence. Three veterans were killed, more than 50 veterans were wounded and 135 arrested for simply demanding what they had been promised. But their heroic action ultimately led to a victory several years later as Congress passed a bonus act over President Roosevelt's veto. In addition, job programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps were created that provided the veterans with jobs. If they had sat home quietly, nothing would have happened.

Today, we are sent to two senseless wars that only benefit the oil giants, defense contractors and Wall Street CEOs. We come home to a worse economic situation than when we joined.

Like the Bonus Marchers decades ago, we will only solve the multitude of problems we face as veterans by organizing together and fighting back.


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