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JBLM spouses working towards military social care careers

Veteran unemployment a primary focus

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At 29.1 percent the unemployment rate among young veterans is nearly double the unemployment rate for non-veterans of the same age. In Washington alone, there are reportedly 37,000 unemployed veterans. Two Joint Base Lewis-McChord spouses, Nichole Ayres and Tessa Davis, have taken notice of this alarming trend and are working to garner attention and improve those statistics.

Both Ayres and Davis are Masters of Social Work students at the University of Southern California and are pursuing their degrees remotely. When they began the two were strangers, but inside a small, virtual classroom they soon realized they were both active duty military spouses and that they were simultaneously working towards highly specialized military social work degrees.

"I am a veteran and I could not find a job after I was discharged due to disability, so I chose to go back to school and that is why this is such an important topic to me," explained Tessa Davis, who served in the Army for three years. Her husband, who is part of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, has been in for eight years.

"I often speak to my husband about how difficult it is to get a job, so I remind him to stay in," said Ayres, whose husband has been in for a decade now. "When these veterans get out, the best they can often do is a minimum wage job, because their military MOS doesn't translate easily into the civilian world. A lot of Soldiers don't realize that they have viable skill sets."

That is why they are working to advocate laws and government acts that decrease the disparity between the skills acquired in the military and the credentialing required for civilian jobs in the same field. Additionally, they are focused on finding jobs and career fields that will accept and benefit partially disabled veterans.

There are current initiatives working towards lowering veterans' unemployment on local and national levels; for instance, President Obama signed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act in November of 2011, which allowed for businesses to obtain a tax credit up to $9,600 for each qualified veteran they hired. Furthermore, as a result of Executive Order 13518, which gives veterans federal hiring priority, the number of veterans in federal positions has increased in the last three years. Last year, Washington was even the first state to allow private employers to exercise a voluntary veteran's preference in employment.

"Despite the efforts of these programs, post 9-11 veterans remain vastly under employed," Davis wrote. "Future legislation needs to focus on the areas that these programs have missed such as addressing the disparity between military jobs and civilian employment. Veterans are not without job skills that could be effectively utilized by civilian employers if these employers think outside the box."

Both women will graduate this coming year, Ayres in August and Davis in December. Until they have diplomas in hand, and even afterwards, the two plan to continue fighting for this cause. This includes reaching out to those currently serving and ensuring that they are educated about how to transition from the military world to the civilian workforce.

"One of the biggest goals is encouraging these new veterans to learn about the resources available to them and then getting them to advocate for their needs," said Ayres. "The most important things we can do is continue to bring attention to the issue of veteran unemployment and vote for legislators that will also advocate for our veterans. These brave men and women fought for us so it is time we fight for them."

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