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Programs offer guidance to newly returned service members

BROWNSVILLE — As far as Bartolome “Bart” Naciancenov is concerned, asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

A 10-year Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq in 2003, Naciancenov is commander of the Rio Grande Valley chapter of the South Texas Afghanistan Iraq Veterans Association and also a veterans resource and referral specialist with the Texas Veterans Leadership Program, part of the Texas Workforce Commission.

The organizations work in tandem to give help and guidance to returning veterans in whatever form it’s needed — navigating Veterans Affairs bureaucracy, getting into college or a technical school, finding a job, etc.

A veteran needs gas for the car to get to work? Naciancenov, working with STAIVA, will come up with a gas card. No suit for an interview? They’ll find one. Naciancenov will even provide a lift to the interview if necessary.

“Or if he’s having a hard time paying his utility bills or rent or whatever, we help him out too,” he said. “When the government can’t help, we step in and assist ... that veteran and his family.”

Naciancenov’s efforts have been increasingly focused on employment lately as waves of veterans complete their military service and return home.

“The opportunities here in the Valley — as you know — are limited,” Naciancenov said. “A lot of us see the military as an escape: I want to get paid and travel, and why not?”

Naciancenov was able to finish a double major in criminal justice administration and business finance over six years while on active duty, taking advantage of night school and online courses. However, most veterans wait until returning home to pursue higher education — if they do it at all, he said.

Naciancenov is there to help them navigate that path, of course. And while many veterans are unskilled when they enter the military, the training they receive while in the service often is an asset when it comes to landing security-related jobs with the Valley’s many federal employers, Naciancenov said.

“Those are jobs that pay really well,” he said. “There’s always an opportunity there. We’ve been very successful with that. We’ve been getting a good number of veterans hired, especially this year.”

Naciancenov said he’s helped probably 600 to 700 veterans in the two years he’s been in the position.

“I get tons of emails a day from veterans requesting employment information,” he said. “At the same time we’re responding back with leads — with hope.”

For employers, Nacianvenov has this message: Hire veterans.

“When they hire a veteran, they’re getting an individual that is trained, that is a leader,” he said. “He can solve problems. A lot of companies have been hiring my veterans and they’re very happy.”

There are also tax credits available for hiring veterans, on-the-job-training compensation, college tuition assistance to learn the necessary skills, and other incentives.

Naciancenov said he learned the hard way that trying to do it all on your own doesn’t always work — whether it’s finding a job or reintegrating into civilian life after serving a long tour overseas.

The fact that he’s been through it and understands both types of challenges tends to foster trust between him and his clients, Naciancenov said.

“I’m an example of a success story — that with help you can do really good,” he said.

Naciancenov acknowledges he’s receiving help through the VA, which he said is “there to help you.”

“A lot of the veterans that I deal with, they’re going through some hard times or they need some care right away,” he said. “It just takes a phone call to get them a quick appointment.”

As for the challenge of finding work, Naciancenov said he knows what it’s like to be an unemployed veteran and “applying to 500 jobs and not getting a single call back.”

He realized later resumes should be tailored to individual employers rather than sending out identical copies — one of the job-hunting tips Naciancenov now shares with veterans.

“I thought I was doing it right,” he said. “I was doing it wrong.”

His network of contacts with employers and agencies, meanwhile, makes it a great resource for veterans looking for suitable, quality jobs, Naciancenov said.

“We tell veterans: Don’t give up,” he said. “If you don’t have a job, let’s continue to work together. Call us. Reach out. We want to be able to help you.”

Naciancenov, who was recognized this year by the U.S. Small Business Administration as District Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year, said his approach with veterans today is no different than when he was on active duty alongside fellow service members.

“I’m not going to leave them behind,” he said.

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

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