From MSNBC.com • By Col. Jack Jacobs , NBC News contributor

When World War II ended, millions of Americans came home and went straight into college or work, thus spawning the biggest economic boom in American history.

Now, with an accelerated withdrawal in Afghanistan likely and the certainty of about $500 billion in military cuts over the next decade, many of our fellow citizens who serve in uniform will be looking for work.

Unfortunately, unemployment among recent veterans is consistently significantly higher than the national average. But it should not be so, and it actually doesn’t have to be so.
A tottering economy is not friendly to those who are newly in the labor market, and economic weakness is one reason for veteran underemployment.

Also, while almost everybody else stayed home, a few patriots donned uniforms and went overseas, and in the interim these troops lost experience and, most significantly, seniority. Many volunteers left their jobs for military service with employers’ guarantees that they could return, only to discover that, even though there is a law preventing discrimination against veterans, these were empty promises.

And there are further impediments, the result of unclear thinking at the national level. The Department of Defense feels that it is in the business of defending the country and is not an employment agency, and so it does a poor job of aiding veterans to find jobs. Counseling is spotty and in most cases inadequate, and there is no permanent, coordinated system to match troops with potential employers.

Ironically, in an attempt to raise awareness about troops who leave military service with post-traumatic stress (PTS), the Armed Services help perpetuate the notion that all veterans have psychological problems.

Although the nature of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq makes PTS more likely than in previous wars, the truth is that our young veterans are among the most skilled, educated and capable in our history.

There is no other job like military service that gives young people authority and responsibility at such an early age, and our veterans are often far better prepared for leadership than those who didn’t serve. In what other experience are young people successful at achieving complex missions in difficult circumstances, while simultaneously being responsible for everything that happens, or fails to happen, to every person under their watch.

Roughly 13 million Americans served during the Second World War, and that was just those in uniform. Nearly everybody else supported American defense in many other ways, and every household played a part in winning the conflict.

During the last decade at war since the attacks of 9/11, about one percent of our people served in the armed forces.

More people were killed in New York City on 9/11 than were killed at Pearl Harbor in 1941, and yet you have to knock on 50 doors before you will find a household from which someone is serving in uniform.

There is a growing effort to redress the problem of underemployment among veterans, and properly so.

Through the NBC Universal Veterans Network, there are job fairs and other events to bring veterans into workplaces across the country, and financial institutions, prime government contractors and support groups like the Wall Street Warfighters are making a difference, too.

But others view the employment of veterans as a way to assuage guilt or as charity to underappreciated citizens, and this is a big mistake.

For those who have served, wearing the uniform has been an honor and a privilege, and they bring to the table a maturity and sense of mission unmatched anywhere else in society.