First Lady Michelle Obama speaks as President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden and Biden's wife Jill Biden listen during a veterans employment event in the East Room Tuesday at the White House. Michelle Obama and Jill Biden encouraged the private sector to step up the hiring of veterans. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
With about 1 million members of the military expected to become civilians over the next five years, First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden are calling on the private sector to step up its hiring of veterans.
The two said they're encouraged by recent progress in reducing the unemployment rate among the latest generation of veterans. Obama told a White House gathering today that companies participating in a program to help veterans find work have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses, nearly tripling the original goal of the program with about eight months to spare.
Obama said Tuesday that the program called Joining Forces has also generated pledges from businesses to hire or train another 435,000 in the next five years.
Meanwhile, the jobless rate for those veterans who served after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks fell from 12.1 percent in 2011 to 9.9 percent last year.
But Obama said more help is needed, and she called on private companies to step up hiring to keep up with the demand that will occur as nearly 1 million members of the military become civilians in the next few years.
"They are eager to work and determined to keep on serving their country,'' Obama and Biden said in an op-ed in Fortune. "All they need is a chance.''
The two were joined by their husbands, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, at the White House event Tuesday that focused on veterans and jobs.
Overall, the unemployment rate for veterans is actually lower than that for non-veterans. However, the nation's youngest veterans are the exception to that longstanding trend, with nearly one out of five under the age of 25 looking for a job. The unemployment rate was also in double-digits for those 25-34.
The two first ladies noted that the Obama administration has proposed a permanent extension of a tax break that Congress approved in late 2011. Employers get up to a $5,600 tax credit for hiring a veteran out of work for more than six months, or up to $9,600 for hiring a disabled veteran out of work for the same amount of time.
They also said they had also been working with governors and state legislators to make it easier for veterans to apply their military experience when trying to get a professional license or credential at home. But, in the end, it's up to private companies to do the hiring.
"This is an all-hands-on-deck issue and we cannot rest until every single veteran and military spouse who is searching for a job has found one,'' the two wrote.
The emphasis on jobs for veterans gives the White House a chance to focus on an issue where there's been progress. Meanwhile, lawmakers and veterans groups are focusing more attention on resolving a disability claims backlog for veterans that has gotten worse in recent years. Lawmakers from both parties have recently called on the president to get more involved and to set a clear plan for resolving claims more quickly, but they offered no specific recommendations on what changes are needed.