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Editorial: Wal-Mart’s commitment to veterans is no stunt

NEW YORK NY - JANUARY 15:  William Simpresident CEO U.S. Wal-Mart Stores Inc speaks National Retail FederaticonventiJacob K. Javits

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 15: William Simon, president and CEO of U.S. Wal-Mart Stores Inc, speaks at the National Retail Federation convention at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on January 15, 2013 in New York City. Simon announced that Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, will hire every military veteran who wants a job, provided he or she has left the service in the previous 12 months and did not receive a dishonorable discharge. The pledge represents the largest hiring commitment in history for veterans, who have a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the U.S. population. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:26AM

Like any successful company, Wal-Mart knows a public relations coup when it sees one.

Plans announced Tuesday are textbook perfect: The nation’s largest private employer said it would hire every recent veteran seeking a job, amounting to 100,000 hires over five years.

But dismissing this as stunt would be a mistake.

Wal-Mart’s commitment to hire such a large number of veterans — and more importantly, its endorsement of their value as workers — is meaningful and one we hope will set an example for others to follow.

Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have had a tough haul.

Their unemployment rates outpace the nation as a whole, with veterans encountering difficulty with a perception among employers that former soldiers are unstable and lack skills that are transferable to the civilian world.

Bill Simon, CEO of Wal-Mart U.S., took a step toward dispelling that stereotype with this:

“Hiring a veteran can be one of the best business decisions you make,” Simon, a Navy veteran, said Tuesday in a speech to the National Retail Federation. “Veterans have a record of performance under pressure. They’re quick leaders and team players.”

We have no illusions that Wal-Mart will erase the veteran unemployment rate or solve all the financial problems for hired vets. Hourly Wal-Mart wages are still too low to support a family and far too many Wal-Mart employees get stuck with part-time hours when they want full-time work, something Simon on Tuesday said that he is committed to improving. Simon also pledged to increase what Wal-Mart buys in the U.S., laying out plans to buy an additional $50 billion in U.S. products over the next decade.

Wal-Mart has made many missteps for which it must make amends, which is often in the backdrop when big initiatives are announced. That is the gift of advocates and journalists who expose Wal-Mart’s flaws.

They push Wal-Mart, and hopefully all of us, to do better. Today’s beneficiaries are 100,000 veterans who admirably served our country and deserve to be welcomed home with open arms.

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