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The Unseen Costs of War: Where the Mission Continues

written by Drew Peneton
on December 08, 2009

Returning soldiers are coming home to a recession. A high level of unemployment, a lack of re-entry resources, and a backlog of more than one million pending war-related disability claims have left hundreds of thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans without the resources they need to function in society and support their families.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have contributed to the financial burden we all carry as a nation. At a cost of $30 billion this year alone, and the price rising to $1 million per soldier per year, the financial cost of war is a large portion of the deficit. Meaningful programs for veterans are tapped out. But veterans still need help, and many just don't know where to get it.

We can make and escalate war, but we have to take care of the service members who fight; we need more than just Veterans Day to be reminded of our responsibility to our veterans. While parades and welcome home parties are a wonderful gesture and much appreciated, Veterans Administration costs — for taking care of veterans after they are turn home — are estimated at over $50 billion. For too long, service members and their families have been shouldering the emotional costs of war alone, and it is time to be serious about a complete plan — one that cares for troops when they come home, and one that provides them real resources.

Historically, the veteran unemployment rate is 7 percent higher than the civilian unemployment rate. More than 40 percent of National Guard/Reserve soldiers lose income when they are deployed. Many of these part-time troops aren't even properly employed. Between employers who are unaware that the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act legally protects and requires that returning veterans be given the same or equivalent job, and the 75 percent of veterans who report an inability to effectively translate military skills to civilian skills, unemployment is a major problem among returning veterans. But that is only one piece of the puzzle. Returning troops who find they have lost their jobs because their employers said the costs of training replacements were too high are then forced to prove that their termination was due to military service. Additionally, no single government agency has "total visibility" of employment-based claims. The Department of Defense, Department of Labor and Department of Justice can all investigate the veteran's claim, which, have taken an average of 619 days to be fully addressed.

These returning soldiers, who are then forced to find another job to support their families, face serious challenges as they search for employment in the civilian workforce. Military men and women develop a unique set of skills during their careers, including adaptability, teamwork and mission-focus. These are skills that every employer should value, yet soldiers have a hard time re-establishing themselves in a workplace where employers admit to not having a complete understanding of the qualifications ex-service members offer. Already undervalued, veterans also lack critical career advancement skills — such as networking and salary negotiation — because they have received no exposure to these skills in the military. It is no wonder that so many veterans have opted to re-enlist rather than face long-term unemployment.

Making the transition from daily life-or-death decisions to asking customers if they would like paper or plastic is a tough pill to swallow. Veterans have proven themselves worthy on the battlefield, and should be given the chance to become community leaders at home. Going to college is one positive step that returning soldiers can take. Earning a college degree is not only a great career move, but student life can also provide an easier transition for veterans who are readjusting to civilian life. As a student, you can take a day off when something causes your mind to flash back to gunfire and explosions. This is a luxury veterans with full-time jobs usually don't have; in fact, working veterans might actually find their jobs are at risk because their bosses can't understand why they need a personal day. In this regard, education benefits, the military's top recruitment incentive, are one of the greatest social invested programs ever invented.

Making the transition home from war is never easy. We must make a stronger effort to revitalize our ethical obligations and social debts to the hundreds of thousands of new veterans leaving active duty, or returning from deployments to look for work.

Next week, I will explore the new GI Bill program. There are certain difficulties with program, but there are also added benefits to the economy that the program provides in terms of productivity, consumer spending and tax revenue.

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