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Veterans’ Unemployment Rate Tops 11%

The number of unemployed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is now almost the same as the number of service members currently deployed in support of those two wars, according to new Labor Department numbers.

A key member of Veterans of Foreign Wars said the data indicates that the government needs to do more to help separating combat veterans find jobs and that veterans need to think about their options, including using the improved GI Bill to attend college while also getting a living stipend.

Labor Department figures released Friday show the nation's unemployment rate has now reached 9.7 percent - the highest in 23 years - and the rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 11.3 percent.

About 185,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are out of work, just 9,000 fewer than the number currently deployed to those two areas, said Justin Brown of the VFW's national legislative service.

"The government needs to do more to help, like making sure veterans are getting a piece of the economic stimulus package that really short-changed veterans," Brown said. "And people who are separating from the service need to think about what they are going to do."

One option, Brown said, is for separating service members to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to attend college. The program pays full tuition and fees, plus an allowance for books and a living stipend, that can help prepare veterans for a better job while tiding them over until the economy improves.

"They can come back into the job market when it is better," Brown said.

An unemployment rate that is higher for recent combat veterans than for the overall U.S. population is not a sign of discrimination against veterans, Brown said, but a sign that service members leaving the military today are hamstrung in some ways in the hunt for jobs.

"A 22-year-old getting out of the service right now has networks of friends and family who are not employment networks," Brown said. "The primary way they are finding jobs are those listed in the paper or on the Web, and those are the hardest jobs to get because that's where there is the most competition."

The economic stimulus passed earlier this year was supposed to create 3.5 million jobs, but veterans received no special treatment and, in some ways, ended up losing ground, he said.

If the money was spent by the federal government, there would be several requirements for setting aside jobs for veterans, such as making sure jobs are listed with veterans job centers. Instead, the stimulus bill provided the money for projects in the form of state grants, and states are under no obligation to follow those rules.

Brown said he hopes Congress changes the rules later this year.

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