It's not easy to be a veteran in the United States. Sure, we might honor our veterans with parades, bumper stickers, and high-profile concerts on HBO, but when it comes to actual, dedicated outreach ... well, we could do a lot better. The unemployment rate for veterans ticked up to 7.2 percent in October, well ahead of the national unemployment rate (5.8 percent, and dropping). And when you zero in on younger veterans, who have served in the years following 9/11, the picture looks even grimmer.
That's a reality that hit home for Mike Musto, who serves as CEO of U.S. Pavement Services. For more than 25 years, his company has been paving and repairing New England's roads, from patching asphalt to painting the lines in parking lots. He's also been making strides to ensure that veterans are well-represented in his workforce, and hopefully setting an example for other companies staffing up around Veterans Day.
"They are skilled, trained, disciplined professionals that are a big asset to my company, and can be a big asset to many companies out there," Musto told AOL Jobs. "As far as I'm concerned, they work harder than the average person. We have trained some of them in some of the different skills of our company, and it's gone very well."
Want an idea of just how committed Musto is to his cause? In addition to making a concerted effort to hire veterans, he's planted 2,000 Christmas trees on a piece of land he owns in Maine -- which, once they've matured, he plans to give out to vets during the holiday season. If it's possible for someone's very voice to sound patriotic, his does -- and you can hear the passion in it when he brings up his company's Pledge to Hire Veterans, which challenges other employers to hire at least one veteran. So far, more than 30 other companies have jumped onboard.
"It's a good investment in our country, I believe. I feel like we have an obligation to give back to veterans for the sacrifices that they've made."
Musto currently employs seven full-time veterans on his staff of 35, including Steve Bohn, a wounded warrior who, in 2008, suffered severe spinal injuries after a suicide bomber attacked his outpost in Afghanistan. Bohn has testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs about the unique challenges of transitioning to civilian life; he now works with U.S. Pavement as a quality inspector and liaison with other veterans within the company.
Musto is well aware, though, that it's going to take more than a handful of companies to change the employment situation for veterans in the United States. The issues are more deeply rooted than that; real, sweeping change, he believes, is going to come through initiatives like the Expiring Provisions Improvement Reform and Efficiency Act of 2014, or EXPIRE. Currently held up in Congress, the bill would offer $2,400 tax credits for companies that hired any veteran -- and up to $9,600 for those that hired an injured one.
"I'm nervous because it's been sitting since January, but it's a no-brainer for us," said Musto. "There are tax credits being offered to Hollywood filmmakers, you know? These are tax credits for people who have served our country. And it's a great way for this country to say thanks to them."
In the meantime, Musto intends to do his part by continuing his company's pledge to hire veterans (and, of course, give them Christmas trees). As for the rest of us, we can all be a little more cognizant of the challenges facing our veterans as they navigate the job market -- and recognize that their ability to contribute doesn't stop when they hang up their uniform.