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White House-backed jobs-for-vets program crushes goals

American companies have hired or trained more than 290,000 veterans and military spouses since the White House announced its "Joining Forces" campaign two years ago, and U.S. employers now have committed to supplying jobs to another 435,000 veterans over the next five years, Michelle Obama announced Tuesday.

The hires to date mean that Joining Forces — led by the first lady and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden — has, with eight months to spare, nearly tripled its original goal to connect 100,000 unemployed veterans to paychecks by the end of 2013. 

"We know that today is not the finish line," she said. "Today is simply just a mile marker. And we’re not going to stop until every single veteran or military spouse that is searching for a job has found one."

"Across America and all around the world, our men and women in uniform and their families are standing up for us ... And in so many ways, all they’re looking for is another way to serve. All they need is that next mission. All they need is a job," she said. "You live in a grateful nation. And people will stand up." 

According to the Department of Labor, there were 783,000 veterans without jobs at the end of March. The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 9.2 percent at that time compared to the civilian unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, federal figures show. 

Companies vowing to churn up more jobs for veterans and military spouses during the next five years include: BNSF Railway (5,000 hires), UPS (25,000), Home Depot (55,000) and McDonald's (100,000), Michelle Obama said.

"Walmart is telling any veteran who has served honorably, if they want a job in the year after they separate from service, Walmart is going to hire them, and their goal is to do it within 30 days of the veteran’s application," she added. 

Complicating matters, however, are two military trends that soon may raise the current pace of veteran joblessness: More than 34,000 service members will be returning from Afghanistan during the next 12 months. In addition, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that "more than 1 million service members are going to be transitioning back to civilian life in the coming years," as the U.S. Armed Forces downsize. 

"Unfortunately, when they hit the job market, employers don’t always recognize the high-quality, high-tech skills our newest veterans have gained in the military," President Obama said. "They don’t understand the leadership they have shown under extraordinary circumstances. Too often, just when these men and women are looking to move forward in the next chapter of their lives, they’re struck in neutral, scraping together odd jobs just to paid the bills.

"If you can lead a platoon in a war zone," he added, "then I think you can lead a team in a conference center."