America is home to 21.2 million veterans – men and women who were willing to risk their lives for our country.
Unfortunately, many of these veterans face a daunting personal battle here at home – finding work. According to the labor department, more than 700,000 U.S. veterans are currently unemployed. This simply isn't acceptable. Our veterans have earned the opportunity to earn a living and take part in the very society they fought to defend.
The most effective way to help them succeed in post-military life is through targeted efforts to extend educational opportunity.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, competition for jobs has become fierce. Positions that once required a high school degree or less are being filled by college-educated applicants. This development presents a particular challenge for former soldiers, airmen and sailors, many of who enlisted without much education or civilian experience.
Moreover, unemployed vets who find work typically take 43 weeks to land a job.
Joblessness is stressful for all who have experienced it. However, many veterans face additional obstacles. At least 3 million were wounded in battle and still suffer from some form of disability. Among those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, about 20 percent are living with post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, and one in three cope with a serious psychological trauma.
All these stats are troubling – and illustrate why Americans must commit to making sure veterans have the tools they need to build successful post-military lives.
The best place to start is by broadening educational opportunity for our veterans. Indeed, education is often the determining factor in whether or not a veteran is able to thrive after returning to civilian life.
One initiative has already made important progress in this respect. At the beginning of this academic year, 250 community colleges and universities committed to implementing best practices established by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Education, and more than 100 educational experts. These "8 Keys to Success" help connect veterans with academic, career and financial help, and surround them with a community of students and fellow veterans who can encourage them as they further their education.
For similar efforts to grow in number and effectiveness, more Americans need to get involved with private initiatives like Student Veterans of America and the Wounded Warrior Project. These two groups enable soldiers to draw on the skills they have already developed through military service and apply them to their post-military careers.
We should always welcome opportunities to show our appreciation for those veterans who risked everything for our safety and security. But these brave men and women need more than our appreciation; they need our help. And, more specifically, they need more opportunities to arm themselves with the skills to create a prosperous, fulfilling life.
Thomas A. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Raytheon. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1977 to 1983, attaining the rank of captain.