Honoring the Work of Our Veterans Oversees Through Jobs at Home
Recent events at the Veterans Administration have brought national attention to the care of our war veterans and the issues they face once they return home. When it comes to supporting our vets, we seem to talk the talk, but too often, the promises we make to them are hollow. As President Obama recently announced, the majority of the troops serving in Afghanistan will be returning home by the end of 2016. With another influx of veterans, we will be faced with providing these heroes with the care, benefits and jobs that are reflective of their service to our country.
According to the Army Times, unemployment amongst our post 9/11 returning vets is at 9.2%, that’s considerably higher than the nation’s unemployment rate of 6.2%. This is unacceptable. To put it simply, we are not meeting our obligation to take care of the men and women in uniform who risk their lives to take care of us.
In recent years, several corporations have stepped up to the plate by committing to helping our veterans return to the workforce, and the federal government has even offered tax incentives for hiring veterans. But something I have heard from veterans themselves is that, “hese companies and these job fairs simply don’t speak to me.” Corporate employers just assume that an adult who enlisted in the armed forces immediately following high school knows how to approach their recruiter with a job application, a resume and a compelling cover letter. As Americans, we also assume that the path for veterans to sustainable employment is corporate and not necessarily the nonprofit sector that in many ways is much more aligned with the values and skills of returning veterans.
I think differently. As the Founder and President of Up2Us, a national nonprofit organization, I see a solution to the veteran unemployment issue as creating a whole new sector of service jobs right here at home that build on their existing strengths. Thanks to seed funding from the Miami Heat, Up2Us started a national initiative to hire and train post-911 veterans as coach-mentors for inner-city kids who need positive adult role models in their lives. More than eighty veterans applied for the first four positions as Up2Us coaches. They will be trained to use their service abroad to help communities with high incidences of violence and poverty here at home. They will be trained to address the mental health issues facing at-risk youth as well as how to use the power of physical activity to help youth discover their potential. Veterans will also be taught how to translate their own values of teamwork, leadership and discipline to young people who often lack positive social and familial support structures.
Who better to serve these roles than our returning veterans? Let’s build a national veteran workforce of coach-mentors. Let’s challenge other nonprofits to create job opportunities for our veterans that also realize their potential as leaders and heroes. Let’s also challenge corporate America to make a real contribution to reduce veteran unemployment but to also support nonprofits that have veterans’ initiatives. And finally, let’s ensure that our veterans’ heroic service abroad is honored by providing meaningful employment opportunities upon their return to civilian life.
Founder and President of Up2Us