Stigma of service may hurt vets’ job search
WASHINGTON — When Joe Tryon left the Army in early 2009 he assumed his six years as an officer and command experience in Iraq would make him an attractive employee. More than a year later, he still hasn’t found a job.
“I thought my combat leadership would outweigh boardroom experience,” the 32-year-old said. “But apparently it does not.”
At least part of the reason for that, say veterans groups, is a lingering stigma among some employers who worry what else combat troops carry with them: post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, or similar mental health problems. Tryon said he heard that concern in several job interviews.
Earlier this week a group of lawmakers led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., pushed once again to undo that stereotype, proposing legislation to help veterans better showcase their skills to potential employers through job training programs, expanded GI Bill benefits and career counseling advice.
But she admitted that improving the marketing of veterans is only half the fight. “I’ve had veterans tell me they leave their military status off their resume, for fear of the stigma of the invisible wounds of war,” she said at a press conference Tuesday. “How can these heroes … who know how to lead be struggling so much to find work after they come home?”
The newest unemployment data shows that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are still bearing the brunt of the latest economic downturn, finding fewer jobs than their civilian counterparts.
Among all recently separated veterans the unemployment rate now stands at 14.7 percent, well above the national unemployment rate of 9.7. Among veterans under 24 the situation is even worse; Labor officials estimate that more than one in five could not find work last year.
“Part of the issue is there’s a real disconnect between the military and the rest of America,” said Mark Walker, deputy director of the American Legion’s economic division.
“People outside the military don’t know about PTSD or TBI. It’s all new to them. So they worry, ‘Am I going to see some sort of outburst? What might he do?’”
Jason Hansman, who served eight years in the Army Reserves including a year-long tour in Iraq, said when he started looking for a job in 2008 he had a political science degree and what he thought was an impressive resume. But it took him five months to get an interview, and that was for an overnight security officer job.
“At that point, I had to take whatever I could get,” he said.
Seven months and hundreds more resumes later, Hansman now works with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America as an online community manager, in part helping other veterans to find job training resources. He said many of them repeat the same complaint to him; Employers simply don’t view young veterans as desirable employees.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said that’s incomprehensible. At Tuesday’s press conference he recalled that during his time as mayor of Anchorage “one of the best places to look for employees was the military.”
Medics make for model emergency services workers, he said. Civil affairs experts bring readily applicable skills to public works departments. Security and crowd control expertise make for a natural transition to police departments.
Murray’s bill would help ease some of the difficulty in that transition, allowing new GI benefits to cover the cost of apprenticeships and other technical training programs. Pilot programs outlined in the measure would also look for ways to let veterans skip some licensing and qualification requirements, if their military skills already covered such work.
Numerous veterans groups, including the American Legion and IAVA, are backing the legislation not only as a solution to job training gaps but also as a potential message to employers that these younger veterans are an enticing talent pool.
“Let’s face it: These people have been weeded out already,” Walker said. “To join the military you need to graduate high school, you need to be in good physical condition, you can’t have a criminal record.
“This is a qualified and committed group of people looking for jobs. Hopefully this bill can send a clearer message out that these veterans need to be on the front lines when they get back from war too.”