Phillip Coleman is frustrated. The 46-year-old served his country as a Marine during the 1980s and was in Beirut after the bombing. Coleman left the Marine Corps in 1987 and ultimately got into telecommunications. He was laid off by Verizon a year ago.
Since then, he has run up against a brick wall of unreturned e-mails and phone calls. "I literally send out a thousand resumes a week," Coleman says. "I am still sitting here at home, out of work." Seeking employment in the information technology field, he has the skills to do anything from help desk PC support to network administration. But even companies that say they want to help veterans don't call back.
Coleman shows up for interviews, only to be told he needs security clearances that weren't listed in the job posting. "I'm not disabled and I'm not out of shape," he says. This time last year, he was able to support his family with a full-time job. Now he is a veteran out of work in a dismal economy.
Unfortunately, he is far from alone. The latest Department of Labor statistics show a 12.1 percent unemployment rate for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 1 million veterans are unemployed, two-thirds of them between the ages of 35 and 64, when their financial commitments are greatest but their federally supported training options are few. According to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, "Overall, nearly one in twelve of our nation's heroes are out of work."
As the country winds down two wars in a period of high unemployment, finding opportunities for returning warriors in the civilian workforce is a major challenge. Rep. Jeff Miller, the Florida Republican who chairs the Committee on Veterans Affairs, has identified several of the problems that go beyond the recession's aftershocks. "As more of our service men and women come home," he says, "we need to ensure that they receive the homecoming they deserve and not an unemployment check."
"There are licensing and credentialing issues," Miller explains, where relevant military experience is not always recognized in the credentialing processes of the civilian labor force. There is also a need for training to ensure that the skills acquired match the demands of the job market. He has been working with his upper chamber counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), on a bill to address some of these concerns.
"Sometimes civilian employers aren't sure how a veteran's skills will translate," says Vince Proffitt, president of Spartan Medical. "Or the disconnect can be in the way they write their resumes or interview." Proffitt is a former Air Force intelligence officer and 62 percent of the people working at his advanced medical device distribution firm are veterans.
"The basic attributes of your common everyday soldier would benefit any employer," Proffitt says. "They are very trainable and learn very quickly. [In the military] they end up moving frequently and doing a completely different job.… Even something as simple as working a 12-hour shift five days a week, that alone is something not fully appreciated in the civilian world."
Yesterday the Senate passed the veterans' jobs bill Miller and Murray have been working on. It gives businesses a tax credit of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, and a $2,400 tax credit for employing veterans who are unemployed for more than four weeks but less than six months. The bill also creates a $9,600 tax credit for hiring disabled veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months.
Service members would be allowed to begin the federal employment process before they leave the military. The bill expands Montgomery GI benefits for soldiers from past eras and provides comprehensive transition assistance that includes everything from resume-writing help to advanced job training. Murray praised its passage as a "victory"; Miller said in a statement, "Today, America's veterans won."
But the battle hasn't ended. "There are a lot of great rules in place to help veteran-owned small businesses," says Proffitt. "When those rules aren't followed, I'm not sure what happens." He says that some large companies funnel business through veterans, which "is not really the intent of the law."
Meanwhile, the people who have given a lot wait for something else to give. "I am ready to work and I want to work," says Coleman. "We want to work."
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