Without a doubt, the decision by Walmart officials to hire every veteran who wants a job and was honorably discharged in the previous year should be copied. Over and over.
The declaration by Walmart’s U.S. CEO, William S. Simon, that the company would hire any returning veteran who wanted a job is a significant step in genuinely thanking those who have served this country. The promise represents among the largest hiring pledges for veterans in history.
The program, which officially begins on Memorial Day, will enable the hiring of more than 100,000 veterans in the next five years, which is the length of the commitment.
The effort couldn’t have come at a better time, with the unemployment rate for veterans of the recent wars higher than that of nonveterans, even though those numbers have been declining. It was just below 10 percent for all of 2012, down from 12.1 percent the year before. Unemployment for nonveterans was 7.9 percent in 2012.
Walmart is among the world’s most revered and loathed retail companies. Admired among those preoccupied with the bottom line as well as shoppers looking for bargains, and despised by labor for its low wages, poor benefits and difficult working conditions. A bribery scandal in its Mexican operation, detailed by the New York Times, justifiably has critics speculating that the hiring of veterans is simply a publicity ploy to deflect scrutiny from the company’s problems.
It should be noted that Walmart will be eligible for sizable tax breaks under a U.S. tax provision that was extended through 2013 in which employers can get tax credits of as much as $9,600 for hiring veterans.
However, those tax breaks are available to other companies, and it was Walmart that stepped up with the big offer. Those other companies should do their part and hire qualified veterans.
Walmart officials make a convincing argument that hiring veterans is not only the right thing to do, it’s the practical thing to do. Simon insisted: “Hiring a veteran can be one of the best decisions any of us can make. … These are leaders with discipline, training and a passion for service.”
First lady Michelle Obama, along with Jill Biden, wife of the vice president, have worked to assist veterans and military families with “Joining Forces,” which encourages businesses to hire veterans. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also has worked to stem the high unemployment rates among New York veterans.
The government has an obligation to make sure the men and women who have served this country are prepared to return to civilian life. And the private sector has a moral obligation to show its support by employing those veterans.