Why so many unemployed vets? Rep. Tim Walz and others explain some of the complex reasons why

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spoke Wednesday, was hailed as "a great friend of veterans" by Jimmie Foster, American Legion national commander.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spoke Wednesday, was hailed as “a great friend of veterans” by Jimmie Foster, American Legion national commander.

We live in flag-waving times. Politicians, pundits, business leaders, preachers and advertisers all sing the praises of the good old USA and the men and women — “the warriors” — who serve in the armed forces.

But there appears to be a huge disconnect between words and actions.

Those returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan face a 13.3 percent unemployment rate, far higher than the national average. Vets in the 18 to 24 age range face a staggering 30 percent unemployement rate. Those serving in the National Guard and Reserves are looking at 14 percent unemployment rates.

According to Kevin Schmiegel, a retired Marine officer who now is a vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, there are more than 1 million unemployed vets, nearly 16,000 of them living in Minnesota.

Jobless vets huge issue for American Legion
The issue is a huge one to those attending this week’s American Legion Convention in downtown Minneapolis.

What’s behind the numbers? Superficial patriotism? Cynicism?

“It’s more complex than that, according to Minnesota’s 1st District Democratic Congressman Tim Walz, who addressed the convention Wednesday morning.

For starters, Walz said, the figures can be slightly misleading. Many of those being classified as unemployed are actually going to school.

There are other factors that make the numbers seem so stark. Walz says that 50 percent of those serving in the military are from rural parts of the country, areas that represent just 15 percent of the nation’s population. When vets return to their homes, they may well be returning to places where jobs are sparse.

Additionally, Walz said, many of the young people who enter the military are those who would not have gone on to colleges or trade schools, meaning they would have been especially vulnerable in this economy. In many cases, Walz said, these are young people who joined the military because they didn’t have other opportunities.

Still, Walz said, the unemployment numbers are absurdly high, in part, he believes, because employers don’t understand the special skills veterans have.

Rep. Tim Walz
Rep. Tim Walz

As it is, the military doesn’t spend enough time helping those leaving the military “fill out a meaningful resume.”

Walz used the example of a young person who might have been a military squad leader.

Educating employers is key, Walz says
“What does that mean?” Walz said. “Too many employers don’t know. But what that means is that this young person managed 11 people, sometimes in the most difficult of situations. That’s a person who is qualified for a supervisory position in any company.”

Walz — and other speakers at this convention today — agreed with  President Barack Obama, who Tuesday urged state legislatures to change an array of licensing qualifications so that military experience has more meaning in the civilian world.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., heads the House Veterans Affairs Committee. He told Legion delegates this morning that vets often face “unfair standards” when they return to civilian life.

“A combat medic,” Miller said, “is surely qualified to be an EMT at home. But too often that medic isn’t getting credit for his or her training and life experiences.”

Miller, it should be noted, delivered a mixed message that was wildly popular with the delegates in Minneapolis.

The government, he said, needs to dramatically reduce spending — and “over-reaching regulations.” Government, he said, “needs to get the hell out of the way and let the economic engine roar!”

There were loud cheers.

But after talking about the need for government to make big cuts in spending and regulation, Miller said, “Funding for our military and veterans will remain our highest priority!”

There were more loud cheers.

A disconnect between Legion leaders, delegates
It appears there is a political disconnect between Legion’s top leaders and the delegates.

For example, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was invited to speak this morning because “she’s been a great friend of veterans,” according to Jimmie Foster, the Legion’s national commander.

Foster rattled off a long list of veterans programs that were begun or enhanced under Pelosi.

The reception for Pelosi, however, was very quiet, except when she noted that four of her brothers had served in the Army.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is to speak Thursday, is expected to get a much more enthusiastic response.

Walz admits that the separation between the words of politicians and their actions can be frustrating. On a number of occasions, he said, he’s attempted to reach out to Bachmann to work on a vets’ issue. So far, he’s been unable to connect.

“I’m curious about what she’s going to say here,” he said.

He shrugged.

“These issues can’t be partisan,” he said.

Walz, a retired command sergeant major, was greeted warmly by the delegates when he gave a passionate speech on the accomplishments of the current generation of military personnel.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was invited to speak this morning because "she's been a great friend of veterans," according to Jimmie Foster, the Legion's national commander.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was invited to speak this morning because “she’s been a great friend of veterans,” according to Jimmie Foster, the Legion’s national commander.

After his speech, he talked of how more must be done to help the vets leaving the service. The 9/11 G.I. bill, which helps pay for college costs for vets, must be expanded so that it covers more vo-tech training, he said. He also said businesses which employ members of the Guard and Reserve need more help from the government.

“Some [businesses] have taken on a helluva burden because their employees have had repeated deployments,” he said.

That reality has made many employers reluctant to hire — or keep positions open — for those in the Guard and Reserve.

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

The Chamber’s Schmiegel said that his organization fears the unemployment problem will get worse as more and more vets come home.

“There are 160,000 leaving every year,” he said. “We have to do something, right now.”

The Chamber, he said, is establishing a national network of job fairs (there was one at this convention last Saturday) to match employers with vets.

“Just because a kid’s resume doesn’t have a college degree on it doesn’t mean he or she wouldn’t be a great hire,” Schmiegel said. “If they don’t have the skills, they’re trainable. They’ve proved that.”

Eric Shinseki, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, talked of the president’s pledge to push tax credits for hiring unemployed vets. That credit, he said, would amount to $9,600 credit for each vet hired.

Shinseki, noting that the military has a nine-week boot camp for those entering  the military, said it should have a nine-week training period for those returning to civilian life.

Delegates nodded their heads in agreement with the secretary’s comments.

Walmart CEO gets warm reception
But they seemed more impressed by Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S. He proudly told the delegates to the convention that Walmart is the largest employer of vets in the country and said the company will spend $20 million on job training over the next five years.

“We are not waiting on government,” he said. “Walmart is tackling the jobs problem. We will have 100 new stores next year, with 15,000 new employees.”  

This drew applause.

Simon said, “I’m not a politician,” but then sounded a lot like Florida’s Miller as he talked of how government needs to slash the corporate tax to “unleash America’s job creators.”

Meanwhile, he said, Walmart is eager to hire more vets.

“I’m proud of the jobs we create,” he said. “These are good jobs and good careers. Inside our stores every day, the American dream comes to life.”

The delegates cheered.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 08/31/2011 - 04:10 pm.

    I’m not sure why this group is so partisan…in the wrong way. Why would they receive Pelosi coldly when she has actually walked the walk and helped write and pass bills that help vets, while they cheer the CEO of Walmart for creating the lowest-possible-paid jobs for vets. It’s hardly a help when you come back from Iraq and your job is a greeter, stocker, or cashier at Walmart, especially when the odds are that you will be the sole earner in your family as a vet.

    Also, while I strongly support spending money to re-integrate vets and to support the men and women who are willing to sacrifice everything for this country, I can’t stand the hypocrisy of applauding “cut,cut,cut” for the nation’s general spending, but “spend,spend,spend” for the military. I’m sorry, but those “over-reaching regulations” will hopefully include incentives for hiring vets, punishment for discrimination against vet employees, and help for vets’ families.

    As a member of the military, you’re not fighting to get perks, you’re fighting for the well-being of ALL Americans. While it is only right to provide more support to veterans, veterans should not feel *entitled* to anything more than what any other citizen has access to. After all, for many in the military, it is a great opportunity that they wouldn’t otherwise have under any other circumstances.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 08/31/2011 - 07:00 pm.

    “Why would they receive Pelosi coldly when she has actually walked the walk and helped write and pass bills that help vets…”

    Why? Because she’s a phony. “Pelosi said one way to create more jobs is to stop exporting them to other countries. “We must be self-reliant. We cannot defend our country when we are depending on other countries supplying us with the means to produce what we need to defend.”

    She must have stole those words from Michele Bachmann because those aren’t words that come out of a democrat’s mouth. I’m surprised the audience didn’t break into laughter.

    With the exception of the minority of veterans who’ve been encouraged to look to government for their salvation, most veterans are self-reliant, conservative, and supporters of the much maligned Tea Party. Seventy percent of active duty, and an even greater percentage of veterans, vote republican because most of us spent our tours fighting against nations that had embraced the ideology of the Left. Pelosi is lucky she didn’t get booed.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 08/31/2011 - 07:39 pm.

    #2 (BS!)
    There were some very clear and salient points you chose to ignore. Specifically, it is easy to give sound bites to those that don’t question and have them believe! Their is a big differnece between conservative, and “propaganda centered” politics. You think we all don’t get that! Sorry I’m one of those successful USN 4 year volunteer Vietnam Era Vets that actually did get it, and you chose to disparage folks like me, I have gained the ability to separate rhetorical BS from reality.

    There, you have been led to knowledge, now the question is can you think?

  4. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/01/2011 - 08:48 am.

    Good question, Rachel. When we figure that out, maybe we can learn why the Republican Party is even a viable political party in the US. But people are obviously influenced by simplistic sound bytes that reinforce their preconceptions and prejudices. That’s no doubt why the attendees cheered Walmart CEO Simon for proclaiming that Walmart is the largest employer of veterans. That’s great and Walmart deserves that applause. But look behind this statement and you will also see that Walmart has been one of the reasons so many jobs have been exported to places like China. Walmart is China’s biggest export customer buying things that used to made in America by organized labor and veterans at cheap, sweat shop prices. Progressives have been pointing this out for years.

  5. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 09/01/2011 - 12:39 pm.

    “When we figure that out, maybe we can learn why the Republican Party is even a viable political party in the US.”

    The republican party is the conservative party in this country. “Gallup finds 42% of Americans describing themselves as either very conservative or conservative. This is up slightly from the 40% seen for all of 2009 and contrasts with the 20% calling themselves liberal or very liberal.” (gallup.com)

    The real question is why the democrat party is still a viable political party.

  6. Submitted by Morgan Matthews on 09/01/2011 - 03:26 pm.

    I can’t take seriously anyone proposing to help vets reintegrate who doesn’t mention the trauma some of these men and women have suffered.

    I know a couple of unemployed vets, from Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. It would be great for them to have jobs. But first, it would be great if they could deal with their families. It would be great if they could go longer than a day or two without drinking or extended periods of crying. It would be great if they could sleep more than a couple hours at a time. It would be great if one of the guys I’m thinking of didn’t have the full panoply of symptoms of the officially non-existent Gulf War Syndrome.

    With unemployment in the general population the way it is, our vets need more help surviving their service first, and then offers of jobs would be more meaningful.

    And maybe we ought to look at what our professionalized military is doing to these people. Before it became all-volunteer, there seemed to be at least a pretense of recognition that these are human beings and citizens first, and soldiers only temporarily.

  7. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 09/01/2011 - 04:21 pm.

    @#2 Dennis Tester

    You would be wrong about the “not exporting jobs.” You couldn’t be more wrong, in fact. In fact, as a liberal myself, I’ve been saying it for years. Long before Bachmania existed outside her own little district. We’re foolish for depending on other countries for food and energy. The difference is between the solutions offered by progressives and Republicans. Progressives would have us innovate to provide our own energy that is heavily based on renewable energy. Republicans would have us rely on stagnant technology and open up more oil fields (which don’t exist in abundance enough to KEEP us independent).

    As for exporting jobs, again the solutions differ. Progressives would use import fees, taxes, and tariffs on importing goods and services (I, personally, would remove “American” status from any company not producing more than 75% of its products or services in the US). In the meanwhile, the Republicans would “solve” the problem of exporting jobs by decimating the American standard of living.

    To summarize, Ms. Bachmann is FAR from the first to say that we should stop exporting jobs and stop importing oil. The difference in solutions is that Bachmann’s solutions are short-term, at best, while the progressive solutions at least realistically consider that we can’t drill our way out of an energy crisis or force the American public into slave labor simply for the privilege of holding a job.

  8. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 09/01/2011 - 05:55 pm.

    You are so right, Morgan (#6). There are veterans of the Vietnam and even the Korean War who still suffer from PTSD, although it does seem that the macho Defense Department is beginning to learn that to be injured psychologically is no more a sign of weakness than is losing a leg to a roadside bomb.

    I’d guess that one of the reasons so many soldiers return from Iraq with PTSD is that they must serve multiple tours of duty, with barely a chance to recover or even begin to receive helpful treatment before being called up again.

    Re: Our Michele. A radio station reported today that she was speaking to the veterans about why she would be a good (great?) Commander in Chief.
    I can’t wait to hear why.

  9. Submitted by karen Ingeman on 09/04/2011 - 03:01 pm.

    FOX news. My mother can’t stand Nancy Pelosi. I learned later that she watches FOX news.


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