Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal
published a summary of a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs study on discharged veterans' employment and wage prospects.
The study revealed that young veterans are earning less and having more difficulty finding work than their civilian peers.
For example, the percentage of veterans not in the labor force jumped from 10% in 2000 (prewar) to 23% in 2005. Veterans ages
20-24 had an unemployment rate of 12% 50% higher than for all adults in that age category. Even employed
vets are barely getting by: Half of those ages 20-24 earned less than $25,000 a year. And this study was done before the
latest economic crisis.
My recent conversation with Josh Gilchrist,
a 24-year-old Army veteran, confirmed for me that things have not gotten better. When I entered the fast-food restaurant where
Josh works, he noticed my uniform, took my order and eagerly began to tell me his story.
At 19, Josh was a high school
dropout who once lived under a bridge in Alpharetta, Ga. Eager to make something of his life, he joined the Army. After a
three-year tour in Germany, he decided military life wasn't for him. Upon his discharge, Josh was unable to find full-time
work and settled on several low-paying, part-time jobs. "If things don't get any better
I'm seriously considering going back into
the Army," Josh said.
Other veterans, of course, find a way. With
no college education, Jason Lederfine took on a few low-paying jobs after graduating from high school in Long Beach, Calif.
Inspired to join the military after the Sept. 11 attacks, he chose the Army in 2002. Today, Jason is taking full advantage
of the Army's educational-assistance program and is completing the application process with the Los Angeles Police Department.
Jason, like many veterans, participated
in the Army Career and Alumni Program, which helps soldiers transition into civilian life. Yet for every Jason, there's a
Josh. While some employers are inclined to hire veterans, according to a VA study, others fret about their mental health or
skill set. Should these veterans be put at the front of the lines of those seeking jobs? Of course not. But all veterans who
have the training, skills and work ethic should have opportunities. Make no mistake especially during this
Christmas holiday a nation is only as strong as its weakest citizen.
Capt. James Key is an Army chaplain
at Fort Jackson, S.C.