By Rear Admiral James J. Carey (USN-Ret. )
Since the first Sunday in May, America has been in awe of the heroic acts of Navy SEAL Team SIX that went into the lair of Osama bin Laden and finally closed a major chapter on the terror filled acts he brought on this country almost ten years ago. The bravery, skills, and execution of those young SEALs have given us pause in our daily lives to once again recognize the sacrifices and dedication that so many of our young men and women give each day when they agree to serve in the U.S. military.
It’s a recognition that comes too infrequently. With the exception of putting our hands over our hearts when we hear the national anthem or standing to recognize our service members in attendance at a local sporting event, the recognition of our service members does not come nearly enough. And unbeknownst to many, we have inadvertently been leaving our guardians of freedom at the back of the line when they need our support most. As our brave men and women return home from serving their country, they arrive to an embattled economy, and a country that is struggling to create long-term jobs for its returning service members.
Recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) can help tell the story. This past March, BLS released their annual Veterans’ Unemployment Summary. The jobless rate among male veterans aged 18-24 was nearly 22 percent, well above the rate for non-veterans of the same age. And the rate for women veterans in the same age range was over 15 percent. Many of these young men and women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times.
Decades ago our veterans came home from the battlefields of Vietnam to a similar situation, seemingly punished for their service instead of reaping the rewards of their sacrifice. We cannot repeat those disgraceful times. We as a nation must work together to ensure our military heroes are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve by simply helping to train and place them in rewarding and fulfilling careers upon their return.
If returning service members are lucky enough to find a job upon their return, the starting pay is typically $10,000 a year lower than it would be had they never served. Some employers are fearful of reoccurring deployments or that some veterans may need to miss work to deal with service-connected health issues. But as Americans, it is our duty to help the men and women who protect us from harm. This is a national crisis and our veterans deserve better. Two years ago, Bobby Kotick, the president of Activision Blizzard, Inc. , the worldwide video game publisher and producer of the Call of Duty® video game, established the Call of Duty Endowment after learning about the incredibly high rate of young veterans unable to find work upon their return from service. Since then, the Endowment has delivered more than one million dollars in grants and scholarships to assist veterans with new careers in the civilian workforce. And this past November, Activision committed another $1 million to the Endowment.
Admittedly, the Call of Duty Endowment does not have all the answers, and it does not provide the immediate job placement that many veterans need. But they are providing the resources necessary to get more veterans back to work through successful reintegration and job training programs that they support. And the organization is working diligently to spread public awareness about the issue, and encourage good corporate social responsibility so more of America’s employers will help our deserving veterans find a 21st century career. In essence, it is a vivid example of how the corporate sector can support the non-profit sector to address a very public problem.
As we continue to give those of Navy SEALs Team SIX the soaring recognition they deserve, I hope that we will also take the time to give those veterans coming home the careers they too deserve. The members of SEAL Team SIX are just a small sample of the brave, skillful, and committed men and women serving throughout our Armed Forces that are ready to make their mark when they return home. Just as the members of SEAL Team SIX completed their mission with precision, so too will our veterans take on their next career when given the chance.
Rear Admiral James J. Carey (USN-Ret. ) is an advisory board member to the Call of Duty Endowment and is the Founder and National Chairman of ‘The Flag & General Officers’ Network.