One area we’ve chronicled with disappointing regularity over the last several months is the high rate of unemployment among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. In our struggling economy, it’s particularly tough for the men and women returning to the civilian workforce after service overseas.
And things are not getting better. By the end of last year, veterans’ unemployment was actually increasing. With President Obama determined to double down on the failed economic policies of his first term, which brought us to this impasse of low-growth stagnation, that’s unlikely to turn around soon.
But here’s a ray of light: Wal-Mart announced this week a new veterans hiring push whereby they plan to take all comers. That is, any honorably discharged veteran separated from the military for less than one year will be eligible for employment with the retailer.
Stars and Stripes reports, describing the program as “part patriotism, part common sense”:
The announcement was greeted with fanfare from veterans’ advocates and even the White House, which has worked with corporate leaders over the last year to encourage American businesses to help veterans find employment after their military service. In a statement, first lady Michelle Obama called the move “a concrete example of our nation’s love and support for our troops, veterans, and their families.”
More than 226,000 Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans filed for unemployment benefits last month, and the unemployment rate among that group has been sitting stubbornly above the national figure and the overall veterans number for most of the last four years.
Under the Wal-Mart plan, all veterans in their first 12 months of post-military life who pass a basic background check (including a drug test) will be promised at least part-time work at a Wal-Mart store or distribution center.
It’s a commendable move from a private sector leader, so naturally, the mandarins of our nation’s media took to their soapboxes to criticize Wal-Mart’s move as a PR stunt (like this piece in Time Magazine) How depressingly predictable.
Instead of criticizing the private sector for leading when it comes to providing for our veterans, we should be applauding those efforts. They certainly appear to be doing a better job of it than the federal government. (The dysfunctional U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, for instance, could learn a few lessons from the private sector about meeting the needs of veterans).
By providing veterans in need of work with jobs, Wal-Mart is paving the way for future opportunities. Many of these workers will move on to positions of increasing responsibility, either with Wal-Mart or at other companies, having built up their resumes and picked up new skills working in the private sector.
Wal-Mart should be commended for their forward thinking on tackling veterans’ unemployment. Here’s hoping other employers will follow suit.
Pete Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. Pete is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay.