As more vets return from war, many have difficulty in finding jobs
Military skills don't always translate after combat has ended
OGDEN — Aaron Conley joined the Air Force in 2007 when he couldn't find work at home in Jackson, Tenn., to help support his then-pregnant wife. For the last six months his wife and daughter have lived with him on Hill Air Force base. At 24 years old, he proudly — with a lot of jargon — talks about his work in storing munitions. The trucks he drives for the military are described by the ton, as are the bombs he helps strap to the back.
"I know my job. I enjoy it," Conley said.
But he wants to "experience civilian life" now. When his Air Force contract ends he plans to return to his family in Jackson. "I want to go home," he said. Only after months of looking he once again cannot find work. And his wife is once again pregnant.
Conley is part of the new generation of veterans, many returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They will make the adjustment to civilian life as many have done before — but times have changed. The economy is nowhere near as welcoming as World War II vets experienced, or for veterans from the first Gulf War for that matter. And the types of jobs most available do not necessarily lend themselves to the skills of ex-soldiers. This is especially troubling to experts, who say that a steady job helps soldiers transition to civilian life after years of regimented existence.
Some things are better for veterans. Employers now sometimes go searching job boards to hire a vet over a non-vet. Being in the war isn't something to hide on your resume anymore.
"In my war, you didn't say a thing. You shut your mouth. You didn't let anyone know where you have been," said Dr. Robert Banz, director of education at the Utah Veterans hospital, who served in Vietnam. "Many (newer veterans) don't understand a vet is looked at as positively compared to in the past."
There are plenty of government programs to help veterans find work, ditch military jargon in their resume and feel more confident in a civilian interview. Conley has heard about some programs but can't get away from work until his contract ends. There's also the federal VOW to Hire Heroes Act, passed in 2011, which expands education, training, transition programs and offers tax credits for employers who hire veterans. President Barack Obama recently called for spending $1 billion over five years on a new "Veterans Jobs Corps," putting veterans to work on conservation programs.
A Growing Problem
The veteran unemployment rate has been historically lower than for non-veterans — 7.7 percent compared to the national 8.5 percent unemployment rate.
But the problem is with young veterans around age 18 to 29. In 2010, the unemployment rate for people between 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 was respectively 15.4 percent and 10.7 percent, while veterans in those age groups were unemployed at rates of 20.6 percent and 14.9 percent.
Those from the second Gulf War era make up the smallest share of veterans and have the highest unemployment rate.
Call-up policies especially affect soldiers trying to find a job during today's open-ended conflicts. The highest unemployment occurs with reservists and the National Guard. The 2007 Military Authorization Act changed the maximum length of duty from 270 to 365 days, which Ted Daywalt, CEO and President of the online job board Vet Jobs, thinks make it harder to hire a veteran still on contract with the military. Some employers chose not to invest in workers that may be called away for up to a year. Although Daywalt thinks many employers would like to hire more veterans, and he appreciates the businesses that do.
"Businesses bending over backwards to hire veterans, make an old fart like me feel wonderful," says Daywalt, who remembers what it was like returning from Vietnam.
Daywalt said that soldiers should stress to potential employers that they won't be called up again. For them, the war is over.
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