War Veterans Group Says Unemployment Higher Than U.S. Count

The unemployment rate among U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be higher than government statistics show, according to a support group.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found in a survey of members that nearly 17 percent were out of work as of January 2012. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that the jobless rate among veterans who served since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks averaged 12.1 percent in 2011.

“When looking at the current workforce, almost 17 percent of our members are unemployed, eight percentage points higher than the national average,” the New York-based group said in a report to be released today.

The survey also highlighted the mental-health strains on veterans as a result of a decade of war. More than a third of respondents said they personally knew an Iraq or Afghanistan war veteran who has committed suicide, and two-thirds said they don’t think troops and veterans are getting the mental-health care they need.

The group invited its members to fill out an online poll between Jan. 1 and Jan. 16. While 4,278 people participated in the survey, only 2,223 could be confirmed as veterans because the others did not submit official proof of their wartime service as requested, the group said.

Even so, “we are confident that our survey results accurately represent our members’ experiences and opinions,” the group said in the report.

Jobs Gap

The Obama administration has called attention to the problem of unemployment among recent veterans, and has provided new tax credits to employers willing to hire them. Even with such efforts, veterans groups and officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, have expressed concern that the problem may get worse as more troops return from Afghanistan and the Pentagon prepares to shed 123,900 troops by fiscal 2017.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America plans to release its survey at a briefing today on Capitol Hill. Bloomberg obtained an advance copy.

The survey gave mixed reviews to employers, with 51 percent of respondents saying employers “were open to hiring a veteran” and 49 percent saying they weren’t.

Veterans who reported they were unemployed have been jobless for 13 months on average, with a maximum time of 96 months. The single biggest reason for their joblessness -- cited by 34 percent of respondents -- was “the current economic downturn.” An additional 24 percent said they could not find a job to match their skills.

Of those working part-time, 89 percent said they would like to work full-time.

Mental-Health Issues

While employment was the most pressing issue cited by respondents, mental health ranked second.

The survey found 67 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans don’t think the mental-health care received by troops and veterans is adequate. Sixty percent said the Defense Department doesn’t do a good job in “reaching out” to troops and veterans needing such care.

Views of the Department of Veterans Affairs were more evenly divided, with 51 percent saying the agency didn’t do a good enough job in outreach and 49 percent saying it did.

The survey found that 37 percent of the group’s members knew another veteran who had committed suicide, down four percentage points from 2010, the report said.

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