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The Next Battle

The Next Battle

Veterans are fighting for jobs on the homefront.
Clayton Sinyai | AUGUST 27, 2012

the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

After 24 years in the military, including three tours in Iraq and service as a scout sniper in Afghanistan, Joe Tretta was ready for a change. “I wasn’t young anymore,” he said. “It was no fun sleeping on the ground.” Mr. Tretta had also spent six months in a hospital recovering from injuries to his leg, head and shoulder after a roadside bomb exploded. He retired from the military in February 2010, but he still wanted to work. His Veterans Affairs representative directed him to Helmets to Hardhats, a national employment and training service that connects veterans with opportunities in the construction industry.

Mr. Tretta, who now lives in Bel Air, Md., filed an application online and waited. Given the massive downturn in the construction industry, openings were few and far between. But a year later he got a call from the carpenters’ union apprenticeship program in Baltimore and jumped at the opportunity. His is a success story, but one to which fewer and fewer returning veterans can relate.

With a decade of military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the armed forces anticipate a major reduction in personnel. The number of active duty soldiers in the U.S. Army is to be cut by nearly 60,000; tens of thousands of marines, sailors and air force members will join them. This newest generation of veterans will soon re-enter a struggling civilian economy that is not generating sufficient employment for job seekers.

They will face daunting challenges in the labor market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over 8 percent of adults were unemployed in 2011. But among the 1.9 million who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, that number rises to 12.1 percent. For the youngest veterans, between the ages of 18 and 24, the unemployment rate is 29.1 percent. Read more