According to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans is down from 8.3 percent in 2011 to 7.3 percent currently. And for veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the unemployment rate has dropped from 12 percent to below 10 percent.
But, while unemployment numbers have improved, Deputy Secretary for the Department of Labor (DoL) Seth Harris told attendees at The American Legion's 95th National Convention in Houston that "we cannot proclaim success until every veteran who wants a good middle-class job has the skills and opportunity to get one."
The DoL is making strides, he says, in reducing veterans unemployment through its online job tools that help veterans, transitioning servicemembers and homeless veterans gain the skills and credentials needed to build a civilian career that will support a middle-class lifestyle. And the DoL is hoping a new rule announced Aug. 27 will also reduce the unemployment rate for veterans.
"Veterans employment is not a policy issue, it's not a political issue. As the vice president (Joe Biden) said yesterday, it is a sacred obligation that we all owe," Harris said. "We owe a great debt to America's veterans, and we must get about the business of repaying that debt. And jobs are an important part of that repayment."
DoL announced new rules under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that will require federal contractors and subcontractors to set a goal of hiring veterans and disabled workers, including veterans with disabilities. The goal will require that disabled workers make up at least 7 percent of their employees and that veterans make up at least 8 percent. The rules, which are set to affect about 171,000 companies conducting business with the federal government, could mean more than 200,000 jobs for veterans if the companies meet their goals within the first year of compliance.
"These rules are necessary because veterans hiring and disabilities hiring don't just happen," Harris said. "It takes work, it takes a sustained commitment, it takes a plan, it takes employees reaching out to joining forces, the U.S. Department of Labor and The American Legion. It takes breaking down barriers and putting aside prejudices and old ways of thinking. It takes goals and specific dedicated efforts to meet those goals."
DoL's online job tools that helps get veterans, transitioning servicemembers and homeless veterans get back to work include:
My Next Move for Veterans.  This online resource allows veterans to put their military occupational specialty into the interactive module and find civilian occupations that they are qualified for. It gives information about salaries, apprenticeships and educational training programs.
Transitional Assistance Program (TAP).  DoL recently redesigned TAP to help transitioning servicemembers prepare for civilian life, including finding meaningful employment. Through TAP workshops, transitioning servicemembers learn resume writing and job-searching techniques, how to make career decisions, how to locate where jobs are, and how to access tools that will help them translate their military skills and training to meet civilian licensing and credentialing requirements. In 2012, the DoL assisted 160,000 transitioning servicemembers with its TAP workshops.
Twitter Town Hall.  DoL and more than a dozen veterans service organizations, including The American Legion, answer questions from veterans and employers about veterans employment. July's session was focused on veterans with disabilities, and one million people viewed the job chat. Veterans can tune in to the chat by visiting @USDOL on Twitter and submit question by using the hashtag #VetsJobsChat. The next Twitter Town Hall is scheduled for September, and it will be focused on student veterans.
Homeless Veterans' Reintegration Program (HVRP).  This is the only nationwide program focusing exclusively on unemployment of veterans who are homeless. According to Harris, more than 60 percent of the homeless veterans that the HVRP serves, including homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with families, are placed into jobs.
"Your unwavering commitment to American veterans, servicemembers and military families gives deep meaning to the word ‘service' in veterans service organizations," Harris said. "The Labor Department is proud to be your partner."