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Veterans Face Jobless Challenge

Congress debates how to combat high unemployment. Obama launches job bank

As the nation marks Veterans Day this year, service men and women who've reentered civilian life since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 are suffering a 12 percent unemployment rate, three points above the national average. And homelessness continues to strike especially hard at veterans, especially older ones.

See also: Homeless veterans no more.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress are debating the best response to unwelcome numbers like these. But this week President Obama went ahead on his own to create the Veterans Job Bank.

It's an online database that veterans can search by job type for openings near where they live. It's been prestocked with 500,000 listings — about 10 percent of all jobs available online — by the commercial job search site SimplyHired.com.

Too many veterans find it difficult to make the shift out of the military, said Gautam Godhwani, chief executive of SimplyHired.com, which has special features for veterans on its own website. "They have a lot of trouble acclimating back into civilian life, and getting a job is just part of that."

The United States has about 21 million people who have served in the armed forces, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency's surveys show about half of them are in the labor force — working or looking for work. Godhwani said that about 1 million more active personnel are likely to transfer from military duty to civilian jobs in the next five years.

American society has faced this challenge with every foreign war in its history. But the current generation of new veterans find the shift unusually hard, because they're entering an economy that is stuck in a downturn.

Along with higher unemployment, homelessness is also high among vets. Of the U.S. homeless population, one in four is a veteran, though veterans are only 11 percent of the general adult population, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The VA estimates that about 107,000 vets are homeless on any given night, and about half of them are Vietnam veterans.

Varying unemployment rates

In the area of unemployment, however, older veterans tend to do better than younger ones, and the population as a whole. Last month, men and women who had served in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam era had an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The overall rate was 9 percent.

Bill Horne, who served in the Army from 1970 to 1972 in Vietnam, has been self-employed since 2002. The Massachusetts resident says he rarely mentions that he's a Vietnam vet when he applies for jobs, mainly because it tells interviewers how old he is.

"As a general rule, I won't mention it at all, other than, 'Yeah, I was in the Army,' " says Horne, 59.

He's worked as an engineer for most of his life, a career he owes partly to experience as a radio system engineer helping soldiers call home. But he feels the biggest job skill the military gave him was self-confidence. "I was no longer over-awed at other people and their accomplishments," Horne said.

Next: Many military skills transfer to civilian jobs. >>

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