Despite the federal government’s attempt to create new career resource programs for veterans, there are an estimated 300,000 veterans struggling to find work.
According to a Dec. 11 report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among veterans has risen above 13 percent. The veteran unemployment rate just two months prior was 12.1 percent.
Thia Nilawat, a former Navy nuclear technician and CSUN president of the Student Veteran Organization, said the problem lies with veterans often not being proactive or taking the time to research benefits available through organizations.
“Whenever I see a scruffy guy in uniform on the side of the road holding a ‘help, homeless veteran’ sign, I can’t help but wonder how the hell that happened,” Nilawat said. “With the G.I. Bill and so many resources out there, I don’t get how these guys resort to homelessness.”
Organizations and federal agencies that offer career resources and training for veterans include the Veteran Affairs Office, the Disabled Veterans National Foundation and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department.
John Tremblay, deputy secretary of the California Department of Veteran Affairs, said though veterans have access to hundreds of assistance programs, lack of formal education is the biggest factor hindering veterans from employment.
“It’s like trying to drink off a fire hose,” Tremblay said. “Some of these veterans signed up straight out of high school and they have no concept of the real world. They don’t know where to go or what to do following the service, which makes landing a job incredibly difficult.”
Tremblay said the California Department of Veteran Affairs is in the process of developing a new transition assistance course for veterans about to leave the service. He said veterans are currently required to take a one-week crash course in which they are taught how to find work and apply for aid. The new course would expand over a series of months.
“The country and nation as a whole does an excellent job of preparing men and women for the service. The training is extensive to say the least,” Tremblay said. “But we do not do a good job at forming exit strategies. There is little training to prepare these soldiers for civilian life.”
David Arnett, former helicopter mechanic for the Marine Corps and CSUN graduate, said he is currently underemployed and has been searching for work for several months. He said federal programs like the Department of Veteran Affairs tend to be unreliable and run on flawed systems.
“It’s kind of run like an HMO,” Arnett said. “The model doesn’t make much sense and I think that is due to the sheer number of people returning from the two wars that we are fighting, it will find itself overwhelmed and under-budgeted.”
To address joblessness among veterans, the Obama administration proposed its Vow to Hire Heroes Act in October 2011. The act guarantees $6,500 worth of tax credits to businesses that hire veterans and an additional $4,000 to those that hire disabled veterans.
“It’s a duel edged sword,” Nilawat said. “On one hand, the act may generate more jobs for veterans and disabled veterans. On the other, it may steer jobs away from more qualified civilians who are just as desperate to find employment.”
According to the Army Times, the Defense Department, the Labor Department and other federal agencies are also in the process of implementing a “comprehensive veteran’s employment package” as a result of the Vow to Hire Heroes Act. This package will be distributed to veterans leaving the service as an attempt to provide career resources.
“I look forward to seeing how that works,” said Sarina Loeb, who helped create the CSUN Veteran Peer Mentor Program. “I think the government and VA are doing the best they can at this point, and I can only hope these new initiatives help in the long run.”
Loeb said veterans often feel their military skills are non-transferable to the workforce. She said CSUN’s Office of Veteran Affairs and programs like the Veteran Peer Mentor Program are designed to help veteran students succeed and realize they possess the necessary skills to find civilian work.
“When we talk about veteran employment, we have to be very careful where we draw the line,” Arnett said. “It’s one thing to help someone seek employment and a completely different story to have them on a career path that is financially and emotionally rewarding.”