Salinas, Calif. - The vast majority of veterans are employed, but a glaring fact remains, a recent study has found that post 9-11 veterans are unemployed at a rate of 1 full percent higher than the national average. This part three of our Center for Investigative Action series on veterans issues. Businesses say in public 'its good to hire a veteran', but we're finding the mental health stigma holds many back.
Vietnam veteran Manny Palacio works for the Employment Development Department's One Stop in Salinas and spends a Saturday morning at the local American Legion hall to help veterans find work. As he puts it, it's tough out there for veterans looking for a job.
"A lot of the veterans right now don't have jobs, if they did, they lost them and they're devastated. You have to remember veterans have to pay bills too. Just like everybody else they're humans."A recent study funded by the Center for New American Security found that post 9-11 veterans are unemployed at a higher rate than veterans from prior wars. A full percentage point higher than the national unemployment rate.
Veteran resource counselors like Manny and form Monterey County Veterans Service officer Tom Griffin, will tell you veterans coming home from wars especially highly technical ones like Iraq and Afghanistan, bring many transferable skills with them that employers desire. Skills such as leadership and performing under stressful conditions.
"The veterans who have been under fire are more strongly equipped to take stress and do a better job," says Griffin. Ivan romero served three tours in Iraq and spent nine months looking for a job when he came back to the central coast. "No one comes to your door and says this is how you do the GI Bill. This is how you go to college for free." Romero goes on to say, "at times I felt a sense of entitlement, which I don't know if that's good or bad, but I did enough to where I feel I deserve better."
The New American Security study found companies believe hiring a vet is a good business decision but VA social worker Rebecca Smith said they hesitate when it comes to the fear of future deployment and negative stereotypes like post traumatic stress in post 9-11 vet hires. "So we notice people coming into a job place, they have a very short fuse and an employer says something, set them off and they walk off the job."
Romero was able to get a college scholarship and monthly benefits. But former Combat Photographer Efren Lopez, who we've featured in our series, hasn't been able to find work for over a year. He's supported himself on unemployment benefits and savings. His wife works but is facing the loss of her job due to the federal sequestration. Lopez has filed a claim with the VA, but he's part of the extreme backlog that has many veterans waiting 2 years or more to find out even if their claim will be approved or denied. Now he's at the end of his rope, "I gotta to do something, I started looking for work. In photography, it's really hard to find work here." Lopez has be open to other types of employment but it's been slim pick ins for him.
Manny Palacio says any veteran looking for work should see him or someone in his One Stop office. They are a perfect veterans employment resource, "we're finding jobs for them and seeing if they're qualified. And we work with a lot of special cases." The study mentioned previously found that businesses will hire veterans most when there's a "business case" for it, not for just social responsibility or patriotism reasons. For businesses, finding that business case has been the challenge. Those we interviewed agree that employment for veterans is a positive on many fronts.
"It gives them a sense of purpose, gives people something to do and it takes off the financial burden," says Smith. The most forceful comment on this comes from Tom Griffin, "Society needs to put feet to what they say. The employers need stop this garbage and step up and say we welcome you back...here you are."