Veterans struggle to find work after service

By Mike Sakal

East Valley Tribune

Published: Sunday, May 13 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Krista Titus, coordinator for the Employment Resource Center at the Arizona National Guard Papago base, 5636 E. McDowell Road, prepares to look through some of the more than 1,300 applications of military veterans inside the white folders who are looking for jobs, May 1, 2012. More and more veterans are faced with a challenging job market when they return to civilian life as deployments in the Middle East decrease.

East Valley Tribune, Mike Sakal, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

MESA, Ariz. — When Michael Luna left for basic training with the Arizona Army National Guard in July, little did he know what his time would be occupied with when he would return home in December.

Finding a job.

The 21-year-old private who lives in the Valley, falls within the 40 to 50 percent of veterans returning from basic training or active duty who are unemployed. That number is considered the norm, but officials at the Arizona Army National Guard's Papago Park base, located near the Phoenix/Tempe border, say trends suggest the unemployment rate of veterans who return to civilian life could be on the rise. Part of that, they say, may be attributed to U.S. communities small and large experiencing the return of more soldiers to civilian life — a byproduct of the United States winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and therefore decreasing deployments.

Representatives from employment services at the base said Luna's situation is part of a big change over the last two years.

Just last week, about 40 Arizona military personnel who worked in the medical field returned from deployment with the C-I59's National Guard's Aviation Company. Many of them are from the East Valley, flooding the market with experienced personnel looking for jobs.

"I've been looking all over," Luna said of his search as he handed an application to Krista Titus. Titus is a volunteer Employment Resource Center coordinator for the Be Resilient Program, part of the Personnel Readiness Center at the Arizona National Guard's Papago base, 5636 E. McDowell Road.

"It's been real difficult," Luna said, adding he would like to work with kids or in security. "I've been applying everywhere. I can't find anything."

So far, the Town of Gilbert has been a leader in welcoming its veterans home — and ultimately back to work — as it formed its "Operation Welcome Home" program in December 2011. Welcome Home aims to not only recognize veterans joining the service or returning home, but also to help lessen the burdens and uncertainties associated with returning to civilian life. This often includes introducing them to veterans organizations, employers and mentors.

Although it is a challenging job market, there are steps veterans can take to help their individual causes.

Employment services and resources are available for all branches of the service inside another building at the Arizona National Guard's Papago base.

The Yellow Ribbon Re-Integration Program — established from the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 with a purpose to connect National Guardsmen and their families to services in the community — works in a similar manner. Its office at the Papago base is working with more than 120 community partners offering job fairs and other services.

The program educates those leaving for duty and returning home, as well as their families, on services available.

Charles Wade works for the Military Personnel Services Corporation, representing the Arizona Air National Guard inside the Personnel Readiness Center. Wade said the landscape of the job market has become more challenging since the military first saw a surge of enlistment after 9/11.

"A lot of veterans are not aware of the services we have available or the entitlements they have to help them with employment and in many other areas," Wade said. "Like job hoppers, there used to be deployment hoppers ... Guardsmen and reservists would return home from a deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan, spend two or three months looking for a job and realize there wasn't anything available, so they'd volunteer for another deployment. We're going to be seeing less of that.

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