For many military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, their next fight has been finding a job.
Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that during 2011, the unemployment rate nationally for veterans who had seen active duty since September 2001 stood at 12.1 percent, well above the nation's overall jobless rate. Among younger vets, it was even higher.
And while the rate has been trending down somewhat in recent months, a survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 49 percent of its unemployed members didn't feel that employers were open to hiring veterans.
The men and women who have served our country have a lot to offer a prospective employer.
Besides specific job skills, they've shown that they are loyal, can be part of a team, think on their feet, handle complex assignments and work under extreme pressure. Many bring leadership experience that's unusual for their young ages.
"Current and former military members bring sought-after skills to the work force," says one Army veteran, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. "The same can be said for Nebraska's military spouses, who have been asked to take on many more responsibilities and roles while their loved ones have deployed."
On Tuesday, the Nebraska Department of Labor will be among the sponsors of a "Hiring Our Heroes" job fair in Lincoln. It is one of 400 such events nationwide being organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. A second event is set for Omaha in June, with another being planned in northeast Nebraska.
One requirement for companies participating is that they have active job openings. About 100 employers have registered for the Lincoln fair, which translates to some 500 or more available jobs, said state Labor Commissioner Cathy Lang.
The program is open to current and former military service members and their spouses. A workshop was held last week to help them develop résumés and prepare for interviews.
In Nebraska, there are an estimated 3,110 unemployed vets, Lang said. While the jobless rate among all Nebraska veterans is similar to the state rate at around 4 percent, among younger vets it's about 6.5 percent, Lang said.
According to Bryan Goettel, U.S. Chamber spokesman for the Hiring Our Heroes program, about 9,000 jobs have been filled at 140 events so far. Some were hired on the spot.
The impact is felt beyond the job fairs, he told The World-Herald: "Employers get educated on the value of hiring a veteran. We've heard feedback from employers who've participated that it has led them to hire more veterans outside the program."
One reason for the events, Goettel said, is that a large percentage of veterans surveyed didn't want to relocate for a job. "When a member of the military leaves the service, the No. 1 thing they want to do is go home to their families," he said. "We thought that if we could get into local communities and link employers and veterans, that's where we could help."
With the drawing down of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as significant cuts expected in defense spending, more troops will be heading to the work force. These vets don't ask much for the many sacrifices they and their families have made.
A good job is a good way to honor their service.