By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
KABUL, Afghanistan, – Veteran unemployment numbers are encouraging, but the need for jobs will increase as the services trim their ranks, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta told reporters here today.
The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is down from last year’s high of 12.5 percent to 7.6 percent, below the national rate of 8.3 percent.
Defense budget cuts and a strategic drawdown in Afghanistan, coupled with the recent withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, will mean more veterans leaving service and seeking civilian employment in the coming years, Panetta said.
Panetta cited efforts by President Barack Obama and by Pentagon and Veterans Affairs Department officials to champion programs to help veterans find jobs or succeed in school as part of the reason for the improvement in unemployment.
And as more departing troops seek to enter the civilian work force, he added, “it’s very important that we … [help] give them the ability to find a job, education [or] start a business.”
The key to creating jobs for veterans lies not only in government programs, but also in private-sector initiatives, the secretary said.
“I have to commend the private sector, because they really have put together … [a] public campaign” to raise awareness of veteran employment and create hiring incentives for vets, Panetta added.
The U.S economy is showing improvement, which also helps job-seeking veterans, he noted.
The secretary later left Afghanistan to fly to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, for the last leg of his five-day trip to Central Asia and the Middle East.