A new report from the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that nearly 50,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are either homeless or in a government program designed to keep them sheltered. That is almost triple the number estimated in 2011. Some advocates for veterans have pointed out the dramatic increase is due, in part, to better counting of those vets suffering financial hardship. Either way, the number is shocking.
That so many of these men and women who bravely served our country have fallen on such dire circumstances should be a point of shame. It is also not a problem that can be blamed entirely on Washington bureaucrats and ineffective lawmakers. There is enough blame to go around, and the business community should shoulder some of it. With the economy slowly improving and companies beginning to hire once again, the number of homeless vets should be going down -- not up.
For once, the Federal government is in the forefront of this issue. The VA recently announced that it will continue to fund a $300 million program aimed at finding shelter for vets. This program, which began in 2011 with $60 million, could grow to $500 million within the next few years. That so much money is now required, with even more anticipated to be needed in the future, is not a good sign.
This suggests that small businesses -- the engine of the American economy -- are not doing their part. These young men and women are returning home to an economy struggling to gain ground. And just as clearly, small businesses that post a "help wanted" notice are likely to be inundated with applicants. One operator recently related how he received more than 100 applications for a job opening that paid barely above the minimum wage. The task of finding the right candidate has never been more difficult or time consuming.
Sorting through dozens of employment applications and cover letters is never pleasant. Even the most diligent small business employer is tempted to take shortcuts, eliminating applicants who don't fit the exact criteria. And who could blame them? That pile of paper on the desk or emails in the inbox need to be trimmed.
However, I would note that a young veteran often brings a skill set and a sense of responsibility rarely found in most young people. Hiring a vet is good business sense. For those managers in search of new employees, military service should give the candidate an edge against the competition.
Sadly, tax breaks available under the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and Hire Heroes Act of 2011 program are no longer available. Congress may or may not decide to re-establish the program that put so many returning vets to work. In the jargon of Washington, it is undergoing an "authorization lapse." However, in the past, such lapses included a retroactive certification of eligibility for the period between the expiration date and the reauthorization date.
Regardless, hiring a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts may just be one of the best investments you can make in your business.