The Dirty

"The unemployment rate for returning servicemen is over 18%," Rowe points out. "It's a scandal, and few people write and talk about it." By comparison, the general unemployment rate is currently 9.6%, or roughly half of the veterans' rate.

Rowe's numbers are disturbing, but recent research suggests that, among some segments of the veteran population, the unemployment crisis may be even more dire. For example, for veterans aged 18 to 24, the jobless rate tops 21%, while 16.6% of nonveteran 18- to 24-year-olds are out of work. And the long downturn has made the problem worse: In 2008, for example, 14.4% of 18- to 24-year-old veterans were unemployed.


Needed: A "Reverse Boot Camp"

Added to the high unemployment rate, Rowe notes that "25% of returning servicemen are currently employed, but earning less than $22,000 a year. Compared to their civilian cohorts, these numbers are insanely, criminally high." This estimate is borne out by a 2008 report from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which suggests that 43% of returning veterans were living under the poverty line in 2007.

For many returning veterans, a lack of work and a weak support system lead to other problems. Americans for Veterans, an advocacy organization, notes that between 529,000 and 840,000 veterans are homeless at some point during each year. Between 375,000 and 600,000 of them receive no government assistance.

Rowe attributes part of the problem to a lack of training for soldiers who are leaving the military. "You've got boot camp and basic training, which is 12 to 16 weeks long. We prepare our people for this whole change of culture," notes Rowe. "But when they come out, there's no reverse boot camp."

This rapid transition from combat to Corporate America can leave soldiers feeling out-of-touch and confused. "I talked to a kid the other day: He did three tours, and within a week of getting back, he's sitting across the desk from an HR executive at Bechtel," Rowe recalls. "Eight days earlier, he was shooting people and getting shot at, and now she was asking him the same kinds of questions that she might ask any interviewee."