Innovation in veteran services

Innovation in veteran services
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In 2018, 47.3 percent of veterans over 25 were employed, compared with 63.5 percent among non-veterans, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The statistics for veterans with less formal education are even more troubling: only 20.6 percent of veterans with less than a high school diploma were employed, compared with 44.3 percent among non-veterans.

Moreover, differences in employment may contribute to substantial differences in lifetime wealth for veteran households. For example, according to data from the Census Bureau, whereas the average veteran household between ages 55 and 64 has a net worth of $160,809, the average non-veteran household has a net worth of $232,669.

These statistics, however, overlook differences between veterans and non-veterans within the workplace. Recent evidence suggests that the picture is even more grim. First, veterans earn 3.4 percent less than their non-veteran counterparts even within the same occupation and industry. Second, veterans are concentrated within occupations that have experienced lower employment and hourly wage growth over the past 15 years, which could reflect greater exposure to automation, relative to their non-veteran peers. Third, traditional educational investments, such as a college or masters degree, provide little economic return for veterans, especially when taking into account the cost of these degrees.


Although there are many differences between veterans and non-veterans, these three new results, combined with what we already know about differences in their employment rates, lead to an unambiguous conclusion: The traditional system has failed to help veterans transition into competitive, civilian-sector jobs. This is especially troubling given that so much money is invested in training members of the armed services, reaching up to $10.9 million for air force pilots flying F-22s.

The Trump administration has made veteran outcomes a priority for both domestic and national security reasons. For example, the unemployment rate among veterans over age 18 has already declined from 4.7 percent to 3.4 percent since 2014-2016. Taking care of our veterans is important for not only our domestic labor market so that no human capital is left on the side lines, but also our national security so that we maintain a ready and top-notch military that deters aggression and is capable of mobilizing on a moment’s notice. Most recently, for example, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE signed an executive order that will help permanently disabled veterans discharge their Federal student debt with minimal burdens.

One of the most exciting developments, however, is the launch of the National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Research Institutes, which consists of the National Science Foundation, Department of Transportation, Department of Agriculture, Department of Veteran Affairs, and Department of Homeland Security. In addition to working on interagency projects, these agencies just announced that they will devote $200 million towards long-term investments in AI research and education over the upcoming 6 years. This announcement comes shortly after the release of the 2019 National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan, which outlines the Trump Administration’s approach for coordinating AI research and development throughout the Federal government.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has an especially important role to play. Led by Dr. Gil Alterovitz, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Computational Health Informatics Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, out of the Office of Research and Development, the VA has already begun applying AI to a wide array of challenges. For example, in the REACH VET program, the VA has used AI to scan medical records to predict suicide risk among veterans, allowing them to intervene and help veterans obtain help before potentially making an irreversible decision. Similarly, the VA has collected over 775,000 records since 2011 through the Million Veteran Program to study how “genes, lifestyle, and military exposures affect health and illness.” These are only a few illustrative examples of the ways that AI can enhance individual productivity to deliver improved outcomes for veterans and society, which the Council of Economic Advisers explored in chapter 7 of its 2019 Economic Report of the President.

Building on these gains by the Trump Administration, educational institutions should look for ways to partner with the Federal government to help veterans transition into civilian sector jobs. Traditional approaches have failed, but the emergence of personalized learning software and micro-badges offer a new opportunity to meet veterans where they are and help them obtain the relevant technical skills to pivot into a competitive and fulfilling post-service career. Arizona State University, for example, offers multiple options for learners — through the Global Freshman Academy and Earned Admission — who may be excluded from traditional admission channels. These unconventional channels, combined with a deep infrastructure for online learning, provide renewed optimism for veterans who may have been overlooked by traditional modes of education upon re-entry into the civilian labor force.

Bradley A. Blakeman was a deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004. A principal of the 1600 Group, a strategic communications firm, he is an adjunct professor of public policy and international affairs at Georgetown University and a contributor to Fox News and Fox Business. Christos A. Makridis serves as a digital fellow at the MIT Sloan Initiative on the Digital Economy, a non-resident fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government Cyber Security Initiative, a non-resident fellow at the Baylor University Institute for Studies of Religion and a senior adviser to Gallup. Christos previously served as an economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisers.