One in seven veterans work in industries at risk of massive layoffs

Bob Woodruff Foundation report looks at ways organizations can help veterans through this economic crisis

Another 5.2 million workers filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, bringing the total for the last four weeks to 22 million, about 13.5 percent of the overall workforce.

The number of initial claims over the one-month period is the largest since the Labor Department started tracking the data in 1967. Layoffs are expected to continue as the COVID-19 stay-home orders remain in place.

Veteran Unemployment

“Vast numbers of veterans are likely to become unemployed, at rates that could surpass the highest level of veteran unemployment in the post-9/11 era,” according to a new study commissioned by the Bob Woodruff Foundation, a nonprofit that funds and shapes programs to help veterans and their families.

The study—Veterans and COVID-19—examines the potential economic, social, and mental health needs of America’s military veterans.

While it is impossible to say how many veterans will lose their jobs because of COVID-19, the report points out that 14 percent of all veterans—approximately 1.2 million men and women—work in one of five at-risk industries cited by Moody Analytics as most likely to experience layoffs:

  • Mining, oil, and gas extraction
  • Transportation and warehousing
  • Employment services
  • Travel arrangements
  • Leisure and hospitality

“Based on what we know from past recessions, new veterans in the new job market are likely to fare worst,” according to the report’s authors. Job loss can create financial challenges or contribute to existing challenges.

Veterans, particularly younger veterans, have insufficient savings to support themselves through periods of unemployment that could last over 6 months, according to the study. Before COVID-19, 59 percent of veterans between the ages of 35 and 44 had existing credit card debt compared with 48 percent of non-veteran households.

Study Recommendations

“Veterans may have a harder time recovering from the recession because of pre-existing challenges translating military experience and resumes into new careers,” cites the study, which makes a number of recommendations to help unemployed veterans through this economic crisis and help them eventually find new work.

The study recommends that national veterans’ organizations and their funders consider targeting support to communities with a notable number of companies in the at-risk industries, as well as a significant share of veterans. The study names 15 cities, including Myrtle Beach, Savannah, Gulfport, Las Vegas, and Orlando.

Additionally, the study recommends that organizations that do not directly provide emergency financial services to veterans should be aware of legitimate programs that do provide these services. Veterans in need should be referred to these sources.

Organizations that provide career training or employment services to veterans need to develop plans to adapt to a more challenging job market, according to the research. It also suggests that funders should require accountability and monitor success to confirm goals are being met.

Job Loss Can Be a Threat to Mental Health

Care for veterans with pre-existing mental health conditions needs to be a priority, says the report. The pandemic increases the threat to mental health with the onset of emergent trauma, loneliness due to social isolation, and unplanned job or earnings loss.

It’s important to sustain crisis services, and in the short-term, be prepared to provide care via tele-health platforms, according to the report. The research also recommends that social connection needs to be maintained online. Before the pandemic, many veterans relied on sponsored activities and events to stay socially active.

Battling isolation is important, particularly in light of earlier findings. Studies indicate 55 percent of veterans aged 60 or older often feel lonely at least some of the time. A Wounded Warrior study of post-9/11 vets found 43 percent of respondents usually or always feel isolated from others.

There are currently 18 million U.S. veterans, with an additional 250,000 returning to civilian life each year.

The full report can be found at the Bob Woodruff Foundation website.

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