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Unemployment for veterans at lowest level in 7 years

Job seekers meet with a Sacramento Police Department recruiter during the Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
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Job seekers meet with a Sacramento Police Department recruiter during the Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

The unemployment rate for veterans has dropped to its lowest level in seven years, thanks to an all-hands-on-deck push by government and corporate America to hire veterans.

According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the jobless rate for veterans — a population of nearly 20 million — dropped to 3.9 percent in October, down from 4.3 percent a month earlier and 4.5 percent a year ago. This is its lowest level in seven years.

This rate outpaces the national unemployment rate, which currently sits at 5 percent. In fact, according to the Department of Labor, veteran unemployment has remained lower than non-veteran unemployment for 23 consecutive weeks.

To assist veterans in reentering civilian life and finding employment, President Barack Obama signed an executive order in 2009, called the Veteran's Employment Initiative, instructing federal agencies to focus on the recruitment and hiring of veterans for government jobs. By 2014, the federal government had hired more than 250,000 veterans.

In addition, private-sector employers and veterans organizations — such as Hiring Our Heroes and Be a Hero, Hire a Hero — began partnering with schools and other businesses to hold job fairs and workshops. And Wall Street giants Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Deutsche Bank created Veterans on Wall Street in 2012 to give former military personnel a lead-in to the corporate world.

"Companies have heard the message many times," said Jeff Klare, CEO of Be A Hero, Hire a hero. "They're realizing that veterans make great employees that are loyal and committed. It took a while for companies to get on the bandwagon; that's why the unemployment rate has dropped."

Help for post-9/11 veterans

"[Companies are] realizing that veterans make great employees that are loyal and committed. It took a while for companies to get on the bandwagon; that's why the unemployment rate has dropped." -Jeff Klare, CEO of Be A Hero, Hire a hero

Unemployment is clearly on the decline for post-9/11 veterans, in particular, where numbers dipped to 4.6 percent in October from 7.2 percent a year earlier, its lowest level since researchers began tracking that particular group in September 2008.

Serving in the navy as a petty officer from 2003–2007, Kim Alonzo is part of this newest generation of veterans lucky enough to transition into the workforce. After graduating from Fordham University with no employment prospects in sight, Alonzo met up with a group of fellow Fordham alumni on Veterans Day. At the meetup, she encountered a fellow vet who was working at Drexel Hamilton, a brokerage firm strongly committed to helping veterans transition to a new career. He encouraged Alonzo to apply.

Yet as an organizational leadership major, Alonzo had no experience in finance. "I felt like finance was an area that only prior officers could break into," she said. "Coming from a military background, I didn't have the contacts needed for finance. I didn't know where to start."

Alonzo quickly learned she would not be left to flounder.

"The whole firm is the support system," she said, adding, "The entire firm is designed to train the veterans [and] is engaged in the mission. Every need of the veteran is addressed, and every question is answered immediately." In 2013 she started as a part-time employee in operations and quickly rose to an assistant vice president in the company's municipal finance department.

The company, owned and operated by veterans and disabled veterans, currently "maintains a concentration of 40 percent or greater veteran employees and 20 percent or greater disabled veteran employees," according to Drexel's website.

For veterans looking to embark in a finance career but don't have the proper background, Alonzo offers sound advice: "If you really want it, go get it, because it's there for you," said Alonzo. "I wanted it, but I didn't think they were going to give it to me. You have to continue to look for opportunities. We were trained to never give up, so why start now?"

The entrepreneurial route

Many veterans tackle the problem of unemployment by going into business for themselves.

According to the International Franchise Association (IFA), 1 in 7 franchise businesses are owned and operated by veterans of the U.S. military, and more than 66,000 veteran-owned franchise businesses in the U.S. directly provide jobs for 815,000 Americans.

Jerry Flanagan, a former specialist in the U.S. Army, is the founder of JDog Junk Removal & Hauling. After struggling during the 2008 debt crisis, he began searching for a profession that was recession-proof — and felt junk removal was profitable and easy to operate.

Its business is operated only by veterans and veteran family members who "understand the notion of service to country, hard work, and dedication," claims JDog's website.

"The community gets behind veterans," Flanagan siad. "They feel comfortable with [vets] coming into their homes."

JDog is also unique in the fact that its franchises are offered exclusively to veterans and their families.

Flanagan's advice for veterans looking to transition into the workforce: "Consider being your own boss and franchising," he said. "There's nothing like building equity value for your family."

—By Angela Johnson, special to CNBC.com