All Many Veterans Want for Christmas Is a J-O-B

Black soldiers returning to civilian life face an alarmingly high unemployment rate.

Posted: 12/15/2011 12:53 PM EST

Over the coming months, tens of thousands of troops will return to the U.S. from Iraq. The good news is that they’ll be reunited with their families and can begin to put behind them the horrors they’ve seen. But the not-so-good news is that many will have to wage a whole new war to find good jobs that will enable them to support themselves and their dependents.

 

Blacks comprise 11.9 percent of the overall veteran labor force, but have an unemployment rate of 17.5 percent--a statistic that Rep. G.K. Butterfield describes as “alarming.”

 

“Black veterans don’t have success getting jobs as their white counterparts have,” he said in a conference all with reporters. “We have to do everything within our power to make sure that they get a chance to work and support their families.”

 

Key to their success, Butterfield added, will be the pursuit of post-secondary education. He said that only 12.3 percent of Black veterans have earned undergraduate degrees, compared to 17.4 percent of white vets. The government currently provides up to $17,500 per year in tuition assistance to post-9/11 vets that he urged African-American soldiers to take advantage of to enhance their employability, particularly when they enter the civilian labor force.

 

Crystal Cavalier, the 2011 Army Spouse of the Year, discussed the strain deployments can place on soldiers and their families. Her husband is currently stationed in Korea, but has been deployed to Iraq and Kosovo. Holidays are the worst time for military spouses, she said, but they have to summon up courage to carry on and keep their families going.

 

And sometimes courage is needed once their soldiers return home and struggle to adjust to a different life. According to Butterfield, more than 2,725 Black veterans have been rendered disabled. Some of those wounds are physical, but many also are dealing with emotional trauma. Cavalier, whose husband is dealing with some of the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, said that excellent medical care is crucial.

 

“When someone deploys to Iraq and comes back, they’re not quite the same. I’m not sure what they’ve seen or experienced, but they come back changed,” she said, adding that a strong medical system is needed to help veterans deal with the wounds that people can’t see.

 

Cavialier also praised the support that President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama have heaped on veterans. She said that when she became a military spouse in 2003, there were few programs to support military families, but that has greatly improved over the years.

 

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(Photo: Xinhua/Zhang Jun/Landov)

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