Jobless Black Vets Face Tougher Jobs Battle


Washington Correspondent

NNPA News Service

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When it comes to veterans and unemployment, there isn’t a jobs problem. There’s a hiring problem, said Jim Lorraine, executive director of the Augusta Warriors Project.

“A lot of them have top secret clearances and backgrounds in communications and other industries, and they don’t even get a call back,” explained Lorraine, who served 22 years in the Air Force, and heads the Augusta, Ga.-based nonprofit. “We go through their resumes and we follow up with them, so we know that they’re applying. If they apply to 20 jobs, they won’t get one call back.”

The group of veterans struggling the most with unemployment is the post-9/11 generation of soldiers, according to a June report released by the Institute of Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. And a closer look reveals that Black soldiers in that group have it the hardest, along with young Hispanic veterans.

Lauded for their commitment to protect the country and its citizens by serving in the military, veterans are known for rigorous training as they prepare for deployment. But a largely held misconception is that soldiers transitioning back into regular life upon their return have jobs waiting for them.

“I don’t know why that is. Everyone is saying that it’s jobs, jobs, jobs, but what does it take for a veteran to get hired?” asked Lorraine. “That’s what at the local level we’re really struggling with. What does it take? Especially if they meet all of the criteria?”

The overall unemployment rate of veterans mirrors that of non-veterans: 7.7 percent for jobseekers across the country and 7.8 percent for veterans in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans, defined as those who have served since 2001, rose to 12.7 percent in May, up from 9.2 percent in April. Black post-9/11 veteran unemployment increased from 13.6 percent to 19.1 percent.

Rosalinda Moury, director of research at the Institute of Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, said that unemployment struggles for the 2.4 million post-9/11 veterans is not a new problem.

“The unemployment numbers didn’t just go up this past year. They’ve been up since 2006. This is not a new issue, it just may be an issue that’s finally in the public eye,” she said. “As we get out of Afghanistan and Iraq, there’s obviously going to be more soldiers coming home, and what’s going to happen to them? That’s certainly something that’s coming up.”

Even for those who benefit from the assistance of a generous G.I. Bill, some veterans may have a family to support, or maybe aren’t ready to return to school or have to work and go to school, said Frances J. Thompson, executive director of Charlotte Bridge Home, a year-old nonprofit in North Carolina.

The organization, which helps veterans with job-seeking and other services, received a portion of the Charlotte Veterans Initiative’s $1 million fundraising goal to provide veterans with assistance.

Charlotte Bridge Home advises veterans on the nuances of networking, interviews, and how to translate a military resume into a civilian one. They plan to do more outreach to help those who have been trained to be self-sufficient, and may be hesitant to ask for help.

“In the military you don’t promote yourself, it’s a different mindset. You have to help them understand that they need to say I managed a project with a $5 million budget and managed 300 people,” Thompson said. “It’s not only about translating what terms mean, but also helping civilians understand the training and leadership that translates into making them good employment material.”

Thompson added that what also proves to be just as important is helping employers understand military culture so that they’re not just placing a veteran in a job. She counts AT&T, US Airways, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Time-Warner Cable as companies that have big veteran support systems.

“There are some companies that have been successful hiring veterans. They have a core of other people who understand how to work with them,” she said. “Some are including mentoring programs. There’s a lot they can learn from that, particularly someone coming back from multiple deployments.”

Virtual job fairs and other efforts aim to keep job assistance for veterans a hot topic. Veteran supporters believe that the efforts are being prompted by the return of more soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan in the coming months.

The IVMF report outlined policies, programs and initiatives that have been proposed or started within the past month to tackle this issue. The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor are offering up to a year’s worth of educational training to 99,000 veterans to help them secure employment as part of the Veteran Retraining Assistance Program, which is part of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

The Department of Labor and Employment launched a website specifically for finding jobs for veterans in Colorado, similar to the veteran portal that job site Tweet My Jobs created, and which is prominently featured on Starbucks’ website.

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) introduced the Service Member Employment Protection Act (S 3236), which would, among other things, allow veterans to take time off without pay to receive medical treatment for service-related injuries.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is introducing the Returning Veterans Initiative to help soldiers find jobs through a yet-to-be-opened Veterans’ Employment Center. The measure will also help potential employers understand the challenges that veterans face while reintegrating into society.

The unemployment problem is complicated and requires more than just one solution, said Rosalinda Moury, the Syracuse University researcher.

“It’s kind of difficult to compare other veterans to post-9/11 veterans,” she said. “They are unique in the sense that they’re definitely one of the few groups of veterans out there that do multiple deployments. I don’t think even in Vietnam that was done. They’ve been in a very long war.”

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