In the next several weeks, Simon said the White House will meet with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and major U.S. employers to encourage businesses to make commitments to train and employ American's returning veterans. The first lady on Tuesday called Wal-Mart's announcement "historic."
"We all believe that no one who serves our country should have to fight for a job once they return home," she said in a statement. "Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow."
In addition to hiring veterans, Wal-Mart plans to spend $50 billion to buy more products made in the U.S. over the next 10 years. According to data from Wal-Mart's suppliers, items that are made, sourced or grown in the U.S. account for about two-thirds of the company's spending on products for its U.S. business.
Wal-Mart said that it plans to focus on buying more in areas such as sporting goods, fashion basics, storage products, games and paper products. The commitment comes as economics are changing for making goods overseas: Labor costs are rising in Asia, while oil and transportation costs are high and increasingly uncertain.
But even with the additional $5 billion that Wal-Mart plans to spend each year — the breakdown of $50 billion over 10 years — the amount that the company will spend each year on buying goods in the U.S. will only account for 2 percent of its total spending in the country. In the fiscal year that ended in January 2012, Wal-Mart bought $238.8 billion in goods for its U.S. stores.
"They sound impressive when you first hear the numbers but when you begin to look at them, it's a very tiny scale that doesn't add up to much," said Stacy Mitchell, senior researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance, a nonprofit national research organization.
The final piece of Wal-Mart's plan is to help part-time Wal-Mart workers transition into full-time employment if they so desire. Among the strategies, Wal-Mart said it will make sure that its part-time workers have "first shot" at the full-time job openings in the stores in their area.
Wal-Mart said the move will give part-time employees much higher earning potential. About 75 percent of its store management start as salespeople, who earn an average of $12.47 hourly. Managers, the company said, can make an average of $50,000 to $170,000 a year.
"There are some fundamental misunderstandings out there about retail jobs, and we need to do better at explaining the opportunities we offer," Simon, Wal-Mart's CEO, said.
AP Writers Mark Smith and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.