The State Of Affairs For Veterans Seeking Jobs

Unemployment rates among veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are higher that their non-veteran counterparts, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki speaks with host Melissa Block about the challenges for veterans in today's job market.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, retired Army General Eric Shinseki, is attending that job fair in Detroit and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.

SECRETARY ERIC SHINSEKI: Well, thank you, Melissa. Great to be joining you.

BLOCK: When you talk with employers, what do they tell you about the hurdles or the challenges of hiring veterans? What are the problems there?

SHINSEKI: Well, I think, for them, it's getting to know veterans firsthand, getting to interview and see what capabilities veterans bring. Veterans are amongst the most capable people that I've run into and certainly true of those who are still serving today. And so it's the opportunity to have employers meet them firsthand, see their skills, see their discipline, see their motivation.

BLOCK: What about maybe employer suspicions, say, about the fitness of veterans who are returning, suspicions about PTSD, mental health issues, the possibility, frankly, of another deployment that might be looming?

SHINSEKI: Yeah, sure. You know, I think that's an issue, but as we have found, that PTSD is a - you know, involves a small percentage of our veteran population. True that most veterans coming back from the intensity of combat are dealing with transition issues. We could call it post traumatic stress, but those are issues that anyone who's deployed to combat, you know, deals with and transitioning back from that very high precision supervisional, make-no-mistakes kind of way of living, for the most part, easily done.

For a very small percentage, there is the D, the disorder, and for that - requires, you know, more formal mental health help.

BLOCK: General Shinseki, if you look at unemployment numbers for 2011, among veterans who served since 9/11, males aged 18 to 24 have an unemployment rate of 29 percent, which is really a staggering number. It's more than 11 points higher than non-veterans in that same age group. What do you think accounts for that?

SHINSEKI: Well, it's why we're here, Melissa, in Detroit. This is what we are after and ensuring that employers have an opportunity to see those young veterans firsthand and get to make their own judgments, not on the basis of, you know, some perception about who they are, but getting to know them firsthand, getting to interview them and we will continue to do this.

BLOCK: Right. So I understand that that's how you want to fix it, but when you look at that number with this wide gap between the veteran population and the non-veteran population in the same age group for young men, how do you explain that? What accounts for that?

SHINSEKI: Well, I don't know that we know enough about this. We know that the numbers are the way they are. But a number of programs are, you know, on - you know, in being that seek to address that. One is our 9/11 GI Bill where, today, we have nearly a million veterans and eligible family members in college, in community college or in vocational training, providing them the skills that they'll need to join the workforce.

BLOCK: Help me understand why you think it's so hard to get a handle on why that is, why the numbers are so high. It seems that if you don't understand why they're so high, it can become really hard to fix the problem.

SHINSEKI: I don't know that anybody has an answer. If you've got, you know, a direction to point me in, we'll go find out. But I dare say that this is the issue that we're focused on. There's no question that veterans bring a lot to the workplace.

BLOCK: Well, General Shinseki, thank you for talking with us today.

SHINSEKI: OK, Melissa. Thank you very much for having me.

BLOCK: That's retired Army General Eric Shinseki. He's secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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