Jobless Rate Is 11.2% For Iraq, Afghanistan Vets

Another factor, I'm sure, is that so many of them have untreated depression and other psychological problems:

WASHINGTON — The economic downturn is hitting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans harder than other workers — one in nine are now out of work — and may be encouraging some troops to remain in the service, according to Labor Department records and military officials.

The 11.2% jobless rate for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and who are 18 and older rose 4 percentage points in the past year. That's significantly higher than the corresponding 8.8% rate for non-veterans in the same age group, says Labor Department economist Jim Walker.

Army records show the service has hit 152% of its re-enlistment goal this year. "Obviously the economy plays a big role in people's decisions," says Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, an Army spokesman.

Some soldiers are re-enlisting specifically because of the poor civilian job market, says Sgt. 1st Class Julius Kelley, a career counselor at Fort Campbell, Ky. "It's job security (in the Army), and I try to sell that all the time," he says. "You don't have to worry about getting laid off in the Army."

The market is tough outside the Army. Unemployment among the youngest of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, those ages 20 to 24, reached 15% in February, records show. That compares with 13.8% for the same age group of non-veterans. Some government jobs offer preference to veterans by giving them extra points on civil service exams. However, there is no evidence this is having much effect on unemployment.

The $787 billion economic stimulus law enacted last month includes a $2,400-per-person tax credit for employers who hire unemployed veterans in 2009 and 2010.

In addition, the Labor Department operates career centers that provide priority service for veterans and the HireVetsFirst website, says Peggy Abrahamson, a Labor Department spokeswoman.

Young veterans, Walker says, often have trouble "translating their military skills into skills on their résumé that employers recognized."

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