In the midst of seemingly endless partisan arguments in our nation's capital about how to reduce unemployment, Wal-Mart, America's largest retailer, announced its own plan to deal with the problem.
William S. Simon, president and chief executive officer of Wal-Mart U.S., announced that beginning on Memorial Day, the company will hire any recent veteran who wants a job. Any veteran honorably discharged within the past 12 months is welcome to apply.
Company officials estimate that 100,000 of the company's 1.4 million U.S. employees are veterans and project that the five-year program will double that number.
"We believe Wal-Mart is already the largest private employer of veterans in the country, and we want to hire more," said Simon in a Jan. 15 announcement. "I can think of no better group to lead in revitalizing our economy than those who have served in uniform. Through their service, veterans give us a land of freedom. When they return, it must be to a land of possibility."
Simon stressed that hiring veterans will pay major dividends for employers. ''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.''
The unemployment rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is about 10 percent, compared with 7.9 percent for nonveterans.
First lady Michelle Obama called Wal-Mart's announcement "historic."
"Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow," noted Obama. "As our wars come to an end and our troops continue to come home, it's more important than ever that all of us — not just government, but our businesses and nonprofits, as well — do our part to serve those who have served us so bravely. "
The first lady is spearheading the administration's effort to encourage private employers to hire veterans. The program, Joining Forces, works to connect service members, veterans and military spouses with the resources they need to find jobs.
As evidenced by the Joining Forces program, assistance efforts are increasingly recognizing the sacrifices made by military families. Many of the service members in today's volunteer military are married with young children. Their spouses and children subsist on low military pay and often bear the brunt of the impact when returning service members can't find a civilian job.
Our state plays a major role in veterans' assistance efforts. Washington is one of 22 states with favorable state laws or policies for military spouses, and as chair of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is on the front lines of veterans issues. Her perspective is shaped by her personal experience as the daughter of a disabled World War II veteran and what she saw as a college intern in a Seattle Veterans Administration psychiatric ward.
In 2010, Murray sponsored the Veterans Employment Assistance Act, a series of proposals to improve training, skills transition, education and small-business assistance programs for veterans. In 2012, she co-sponsored the Veterans Jobs Corps Act, designed to increase training and hiring opportunities for veterans as police officers, firefighters and other first responders.
The support for America's veterans is in stark contrast to the treatment of Vietnam veterans who were ridiculed and spat on by protesters. Today, most people set aside their differences on U.S. military policy and support the veterans who serve on our behalf.
Helping our unemployed veterans is an example of how government and the private sector can work together on a major problem.
Hopefully, we can use this successful public-private partnership as a blueprint for tackling the rest of our nation's challenges.
Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state's chamber of commerce.