No Medals for Hiring Vets

By Michael Fumento

Philadelphia Inquirer, November 10, 2009
Copyright 2009 The Independent Journalism Project

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With unemployment up yet again, it must be reassuring to Americans that job-seeking veterans are being helped so much by the government, and by all those Web-based organizations with such names as VetJobs.com, MilitaryHire.com, RecruitMilitary.com, HireVeterans.com, and Military Job Zone.

Except that they're not. Remember the expression "Don't forget; hire the vet"? We've forgotten.

Although this was taken in Afghanistan, combat arms soldiers who serve during peacetime but trained for war and could have gone on a moment's notice are the least likely to be helped in getting jobs.

Although this was taken in Afghanistan, combat arms soldiers who serve during peacetime but trained for war and could have gone on a moment's notice are the least likely to be helped in getting jobs.

In fact, most of our job-seeking heroes get little or no help from the public or private sector. Worse, those who endured the toughest training and the most grueling jobs— those whose job it is to do the fighting and dying in wartime— are most likely to be ignored.

These are the veterans of "combat arms," including such occupations as infantry, armor, artillery, and combat engineering. They're a proud but small group. The vast majority of military jobs, including those in the Army and Marines, are support roles.

The GI Bill is useful for improving job opportunities in the long term, but the government's most direct method of helping unemployed vets is through hiring preferences for federal and state positions.

But only two categories of vets qualify. One includes those with service-related disabilities. While the idea behind this is sound, arbitrary rules get in the way. For example, Veterans Affairs insists that osteoarthritis be detected within a year of discharge, even though the damage from, say, a paratrooper's bone-jarring jumps may not become apparent for decades.

The other kind of hiring preference arbitrarily favors those who served during certain periods. Some of these roughly coincide with periods of conflict, although one stretches from 1955 to 1976. And service during wartime hardly means someone went overseas, much less went to war.

Consider a private first class who clerked for three years in sunny Hawaii, received only a general discharge, earned no medals, and got out in 1975. He qualifies for a hiring preference. As a clerk, he's also likely to have received a security clearance, which is a golden key to many government and private-sector, defense-related jobs.

But a Ranger-qualified sergeant first class infantryman who spent four of his years in bases facing the Soviets, was honorably discharged, earned several medals, and got out in 1989? Disqualified - and almost certainly without a security clearance.

Or forget the hypothetical. I was a decorated, elite paratrooper during the Cold War for four years— but outside the date brackets. Disqualified.

Or at least he did at the time . . .

Or at least he did at the time . . .

Even some companies claiming hiring preferences for vets use the arbitrary government rules.

Who speaks for these forgotten vets? Not the groups that should, including the largest, most powerful veterans' membership and lobbying group, the American Legion. In fact, it, too, prohibits membership for "wrong-timers." Further illustrating the arbitrariness of service periods, the legion's are different from Uncle Sam's.

As to the corporate sector, all the aforementioned Web sites serve just three purposes: to cull for security clearances; find skills readily transferable to civilian life (battlefield prowess doesn't exactly qualify); and mislead veterans into thinking they list jobs not available to civilians. In fact, none require veteran status; they're just Monster.com in camouflage.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with culling select groups for certain skills or certificates. But spare us the patriotism malarkey. And don't tell vets and their supporters that ex-military have special opportunities that they don't.

Furthermore, faux providers of assistance to veterans— which flood the computer screen during Web job searches— displace Web sites or groups that might really provide special help to all jobless vets.

Many employers realize that, specific skill sets aside, military service confers special advantages in such areas as accelerated learning, leadership, teamwork, performance under pressure, respect for procedures, and triumph over adversity. All the more so for combat arms vets.

Yet veteran status, especially for combat arms vets, may actually harm job seekers. That's because activist groups and the media love portraying us as more likely to be suicidal, substance-abusing, homeless, or homicidal— as if we all keep an AK-47 under the bed. Some of this is well-meant; much is mere exploitation. But it all enforces the myth of the veteran unable to adjust to civilian life.

Actually, we would love to be exploited— for the qualities we showed by joining the military and acquired while in it. Having pledged our lives in the event of a military crisis, we stand ready to help America pull out of this economic crisis as well.

Michael Fumento was embedded three times in Iraq and once in Afghanistan, and was a sergeant in the 27th Engineer Battalion (Combat) (Airborne) from 1978-1982.