More jobs for vets, cheers Michelle Obama, but ‘there’s more work to be done’

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama hugs U.S. Navy veteran David Padilla, who has found employment with a transport company after leaving military service, during...
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama hugs U.S. Navy veteran David Padilla, who has found employment with a transport company after leaving military service, during...
Jason Reed/Reuters

Less than two years after President Obama challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2013, America’s business have already more than followed through.

Standing alongside the president, vice president, and Dr. Jill Biden, first lady Michelle Obama said Tuesday that through their initiative Joining Forces—a nationwide campaign designed two years ago to connect servicemen and women, veterans, and military spouses with the resources needed to find jobs—businesses have hired 290,000 veterans or military spouses, and they have pledged to hire or train another 435,000 in the next five years.

“These men and women are some of the most talented, accomplished, dedicated people you will ever meet,” said the first lady, speaking about the military families she’s met in her time at the White House. “And that’s why two years ago, when the four of us came together to launch Joining Forces right here in this very room, our goal was to create an initiative that was worthy of their character and their service…Since then, this nation has truly joined forces in so many amazing ways.”

Since the creation of Joining Forces and Obama’s challenge to the private sector, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans dropped to 9.2% in March of 2013—still well above the national unemployment rate of 7.6% for that same period. At the event Tuesday, the first lady signaled there was still work to be done for the jobless and the more than one million veterans who remain at risk of homelessness due to poverty.

She went on to speak about doctors and nurses who have incorporated bold responses to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other traumatic brain injuries into their practices. She spoke of schools training teachers to become more responsive to the needs of military children in their classrooms. And she spoke of the extraordinary showings of appreciation seen around the country from community groups, houses of worship, and “citizens from every walk of life.”

But few initiatives have had a broader impact on military families than those designed to create jobs. “These efforts are about so much more than a paycheck,” said the first lady. “This is about giving these men and women a source of identity and purpose. It’s about providing thousands of families with financial security, and giving our veterans and military spouses the confidence that they can provide a better future for their children.”

Before launching Joining Forces in 2011, post-9/11 veterans were having an especially difficult time translating their military experience into qualifications for the civilian workforce. In June of that year, one million veterans were unemployed, and the jobless rate for veterans who signed up for service after September 11, 2001, had risen to 13.3%—well above the national unemployment rate.

Post-9/11 veterans, especially younger ones, were struggling in particular because the industries most likely to hire them—mining, construction, manufacturing, transportation, and utilities—were the industries hit hardest by the 2008-2009 recession. Active military personnel typically do not have the industry-recognized certifications that reflect the skills and experience gained in the military. And that just “does not make any sense,” said President Obama on Tuesday.

“If you can save a life on the battlefield, then you sure as heck can save one in an ambulance and a state-of-the-art hospital,” said the president. “If you can oversee a convoy of equipment and track millions of dollars of assets, then you can run a company supply chain or you can balance its books. If you can lead a platoon in a war zone, then I think you can lead a team in a conference center…Hiring our veterans and military spouses is not just the patriotic thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.”

Since Obama’s challenge to the private sector, businesses like Walmart and Blackstone have vowed to single handedly hit his target of offering 100,000 jobs to veterans. The president signed into law tax credits for business that hire unemployed veterans and wounded warriors, and he proposed making those tax breaks permanent in his budget. Last June, the president also directed the Department of Defense to establish the Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, which rolled out a new program on Monday designed to enable service members to earn IT certification before they transition from military service.

Despite the slight down-tick in veteran unemployment, however, the Obama administration has not escaped criticism on its handling of veterans’ issues. On Monday, a bipartisan group of 67 senators sent a letter to the White House urging the president to resolve the nearly 900,000 disability claims currently pending within the Department of Veterans Affairs’ system. And last September, lawmakers ripped a $1 billion White House proposal to create federal jobs for recent military vets, stopping it cold in the Senate.

Both Obamas pledged on Tuesday to keep working for veterans and military families.

“Today is not the finish line,” said the first lady. “Today is simply just a mile marker, and we’re not going to stop until every, single veteran or military spouse that is searching for a job has found one.”

Watch NewsNation host Tamron Hall and Kevin Schmiegel, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes, discuss the Obama Administration’s veteran employment outreach below:

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More jobs for vets, cheers Michelle Obama, but 'there's more work to be done'