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Young war vets returning home to unemployment

WASHINGTON - The unemployment rate last year for young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans hit 21.1 percent, the Labor Department said last week, reflecting a tough obstacle combat veterans face as they make the transition home from war.

The number was well above the 16.6 percent jobless rate for nonveterans of the same ages, 18 to 24. As of last year, 1.9 million veterans had deployed for the wars since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Some have struggled with mental health problems, addictions and homelessness as they return home. Difficulty finding work can make the adjustment that much harder.

The rate for young veterans was significantly higher than the 14.1 percent unemployment rate of young veterans in that age group in 2008.

Many of the unemployed are members of the Guard and Reserves who have been deployed multiple times, said Joseph Sharpe, director of the economic division at the American Legion. Sharpe said some come home to find their jobs have been eliminated because the company has downsized. Other companies may not want to hire someone who could be deployed again or will have medical appointments because of war-related health problems, he said.

"It's a horrible environment because if you're a reservist and you're being deployed two or three times in a five-year period, you know you're less competitive," Sharpe said. "Many companies that are already hurting are reluctant to hire you and time kind of moves on once you're deployed."

The Labor and Veterans Affairs departments have programs addressing the job problem, including one educating employers on how to work with veterans with special needs. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill rolled out last year, $78 billion is expected to be paid out in education benefits over the next decade. - AP

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