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Vice Admiral James Houck, '85, Discusses Veterans, Military Issues at Michigan Law

By Lori Atherton
Nov. 12, 2014

Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population—2.5 million Americans—has served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. A third of those Americans have been deployed there more than once; 400,000 have returned more than three times; and 37,000 have been deployed there more than five times.

Vice Admiral James Houck, '85"One round of missing family events—missing birthdays, deaths, and all the things that are milestones in our lives—is pretty significant," said Vice Admiral James Houck, '85, who served in the U.S. Navy for 32 years. "But to do it twice, three times, or five times, blows me away."

Admiral Houck returned to the University of Michigan Law School for a Veterans Day talk that he likened to a "buffet" featuring various topics, from the challenges today's veterans face to charges of sexual assault in the military and the Veterans Health Administration scandal.

Admiral Houck, who retired in 2012 as the 41st Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Navy and now serves as interim dean of Penn State University's Dickinson School of Law, said that with the number of veterans shrinking in the United States—currently 7 percent of Americans are veterans, and more than half of those are 65 or older—he worries that a gap is developing between those who understand the sacrifice of serving one's country and those who don't.

While the United States is more appreciative now of veterans than in the past, that appreciation isn't manifesting itself in the number of jobs available to them, he said. Unemployment for veterans is 2 percent higher than it is for the rest of the U.S. population, with younger veterans ages 21 to 34 experiencing the most difficulty in finding jobs.

"Veterans have a harder time getting jobs than other people do, and it makes me wonder why," Admiral Houck said. "I worry that there may be different stereotypes developing of a damaged, broken veteran, one with post-traumatic stress disorder or a traumatic brain injury, or with an alcohol, abuse, or relationship problem. I worry that those stereotypes may in some nefarious and subtle way be replacing the 'baby killer' stereotypes of the Vietnam era."

Noting that a Michigan Law degree opens the door to a wealth of opportunities, including those in leadership, Admiral Houck urged law students to consider veterans during the hiring process. "I ask that to the extent that you are ever in a position of influence and have an opportunity to give a veteran a chance, that you do it," he said. "It's the moral obligation of our country to do that."

Turning his conversation toward the Veterans Health Administration scandal, Admiral Houck asked the audience for their viewpoints on how and why the situation happened, which prompted a dialogue in which attendees offered such reasons as the close-mindedness of military higher-ups to hearing the truth, resource/staffing issues at VA hospitals, and low expectations of care.

Addressing the problem of sexual assault in the military, Admiral Houck said there is no justification for it. "It's shameful that any person who puts on a uniform in the United States should be assaulted, particularly by someone else who's wearing the uniform of the United States."

Admiral Houck's visit was hosted by the Michigan Law Veterans Society (MILVETS) and co-sponsored by Michigan Law's Office of Alumni and Development, Office of Student Affairs, Office of Career Planning, National Security Law Society, Federalist Society, Criminal Law Society, and the University of Michigan Veteran and Military Services Program. MILVETS is a newly formed Michigan Law student group that seeks to bring together students that are veterans or active duty personnel. If you are affiliated with the military and would like to become involved with MILVETS, contact 2L Lance Taylor at or 2L Robert Hines at

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