WASHINGTON - First lady Michelle Obama announced Tuesday that companies participating in a program to help veterans find work have hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses since August 2011, nearly tripling the original goal of the program with about eight months to spare.

Obama said Tuesday that the program, called Joining Forces, has also generated pledges from businesses to hire or train another 435,000 in the next five years.

The new hiring projections came at a White House event with veterans and company executives that also featured President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden.

The president said too many companies still don't recognize the skills that service members acquire as part of their military service.

If they can save lives on the battlefield, they can work in an ambulance or hospital, and if they can oversee a convoy of equipment, they can help oversee a company's supply chain, he said.

"Too often, just when these men and women are looking forward to the next chapter of their lives, they are stuck in neutral," the president said.

Overall, the unemployment rate for veterans is actually lower than that for nonveterans. The nation's youngest veterans are the exception to that longstanding trend, with nearly one of five under age 25 looking for a job. The unemployment rate last year was also in double digits for those 25-34.

Overall, the unemployment rate for those veterans serving since the Sept. 11 attacks stood at 9.9 percent last year, a significant improvement from the previous year.

Obama noted that he has proposed a permanent extension of a tax break that Congress approved in late 2011. Employers get up to a $5,600 tax credit for hiring a veteran out of work for more than six months, or up to $9,600 for hiring a disabled veteran out of work for the same amount of time.

But Mrs. Obama said more help is needed. She called on private companies to step up hiring to keep up with the demand that will occur as nearly 1 million members of the military become civilians in the next few years.

"These efforts are about so much more than a paycheck. This is about giving these men and women a source of identity and purpose," she said. "This is about providing thousands of families with financial security and giving our veterans and military spouses the confidence that they can provide a better future for their children."