Military Spouse and Veteran Employment: A Serious Issue for the White House

UntitledIt was a damp, drizzling day, dripping umbrellas and raincoats everywhere, but the mood in the South Auditorium at the Executive Office Building at the White House was all business. Uniforms covered in medals sat next to captains of industry, power suits and heels tapped the floor next to low quarters shined to a gleam. Men and women from all branches of the military, Veteran Service Organizations wearing buttons in their lapels representing the Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America and others; military family support group Blue Star Families, men and women from a gamut of IT companies, all there to talk about veterans and military spouse employment issues, brought together by Joining Forces and the Office of the First Lady.

With the Iraq war over, and the Afghan war winding down, veteran unemployment has been an ongoing issue. Plus there is now the need to reduce the forces in response to sequestration, so many military men and women are looking for jobs in an economy no one will call robust. But what is worse, is that we have qualified veterans with years of military training who cannot find jobs because they don’t have a civilian certification. An example was given of a combat medic, who had saved lives under fire, had received a Bronze Star, came back to the U.S. and was told he couldn’t get a job as an emergency medical technician because he didn’t have the right civilian certifications!! There are young men and women using technology, cyber-security MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) who have to go back to school to get more and more civilian certifications that involve doing the same training and the same job they already had in the military, all of which cost a great deal of money and time.

To help remedy this situation, First Lady Michelle Obama announced a new IT Training and Certification created by Cisco. As she said:

This is the kind of leadership that is going to make the world of difference to hundreds of thousands of veterans and military families across this country.

These folks, as you have heard, you have seen … are some of the most highly-skilled, best-trained, hardest working, diligent, dedicated, proud, noble, smart people that we have in this country. And believe me, I have met with hundreds of them in the course of my service as First Lady, and it has been one of the greatest privileges — not just to work with the men and women in uniform, but with their family members who are just as outstanding.

They do everything. They are medics and engineers, they’re drivers, welders. They’re folks like Sergeant Hall, [AF SMSgt Alexander Hall] with years of experience at the highest levels of our military. And they are eminently qualified to do the very jobs that employers across this country are desperate to fill.

The First Lady spoke glowingly of the military spouses she and Dr. Jill Biden have met and worked with over the years. But it’s not just military service members who are having problems finding employment.

Military spouses, who have historically suffered high unemployment rates, continue to struggle with issue of licensing. Any career that demands a license, whether a doctor, attorney, cosmetologist, social worker, means that every time a military spouse moves from one state to another, a new license has to be studied for, examinations taken, fees paid. Many spouses move every two to three years.

Michelle Obama also reminded everyone of the difficulties military spouses have getting jobs because of various professional certification issues:

[T]his is unfair to the men and women who have served this country so bravely. They deserve a fair shot at a good job when they come home. But it’s also unfair to their families who have sacrificed probably more in some instances so that these men and women can do their job. And they deserve some financial security once they return to civilian life.

It is also unfair to this country, because when we don’t take advantage of the skills and talents of our veterans and military spouses, jobs go unfilled and, far worse, human potential goes untapped. And that’s bad for our economy, as we all know.

Governors have been asked by the First Lady and Dr. Biden to facilitate license transferability, as the State of Maryland did earlier this year, since licensing of professions is a state issue:

But the truth is that changing our laws is truly just the beginning. Because even the best laws in the world won’t make a difference until companies are actually making those job offers, schools are accepting those credits, and our veterans and military spouses are actually collecting those paychecks that they need to take care of their families.

For these efforts to work, Mrs. Obama reminded the audience of their true purpose for the day:

In short, today is your chance to make the connections, from the partnerships that our veterans and military families need and deserve. And remember, it was roundtables like these that led to the creation of the IT Training and Certification Partnership that we are announcing today. It was this kind of work that led to this initiative. And I hope you all will use this partnership as a model, because it is an outstanding example of what can happen when industries come together with our armed forces on behalf of our veterans.

As you’ve heard, this new partnership will provide up to 161,000 service members with the chance to gain the certifications they need for 12 different high-demand, high-paying technology careers -– everything from IT security analysts to computer programmers to quality assurance engineers.

All the certifications, all the training, all the licenses in the world, don’t make any difference if there aren’t any jobs. As the First Lady said, there is another announcement coming from the White House about groundbreaking commitments by companies across this country to hire even more of our veterans and military spouses.

Stay tuned!

Image via Karen Santiano Francis.

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