For Vets, jobs are a big campaign issue

Employee Development Department employee Robert Mortensen, left, helps a job seeker call about a job listing at the Marin Employment Connection in San Rafael, Calif.

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: Today, we begin a new election series called "Interested Parties." We're looking at the economic concerns of different voting groups. This first piece is about veterans. Almost two million people have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One in five of them don't have a job.
One in four make less than $22,000 a year. Nancy Marshall Genzer has our story.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: The military promises training opportunities and a lifetime of experience.

Tape from ad: The Army takes you to your strongest point. And whatever you do after that, you'll just keep getting stronger.

Michael DeVaughn: I make $10.75 an hour here, and $11 an hour at the other job.

Michael DeVaughn is a 24-year-old army veteran. After five years as a military police officer, he wound up as a security guard at a JC Penney in Annapolis, Maryland. He also stocks groceries. DeVaughn wanted a job as a civilian police officer. But he had a hard time explaining the value of his army experience in job interviews. Veteran Paul Rieckhoff has heard that before. He's founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Rieckhoff says the military does train troops to use high-tech weaponry.

Paul Rieckhoff: A young 19 or 20-year-old could be responsible for literally millions of dollars worth of equipment.

Rieckhoff says the problem is what comes next. He says veterans need help with everything. From treatment for post-traumatic stress syndrome to getting bigger home and small business loans, and most of all, finding jobs.

Rieckhoff: If you're a 19-year-old machine gunner and you come out of the 82nd airborne there's not a lot of work done to mentor that young soldier to help them market themselves in the corporate world and help them transition.

Rieckhoff says vets need help explaining how experience as a gunner or tank driver would be valuable in a civilian job. The Pentagon does require all departing troops to attend short, job-hunting courses. But former Marine officer Narelle Helmer says her four-day course mainly involved how to enroll for VA benefits.

Narelle Helmer: After that four days you're on your own. It's just fending for yourself in a stressful environment in a failing economy.

So Helmer went to a private job fair in Virginia for officers leaving the military. Former Army Capt. Thomas Sullivan was also there. He says the government offers plenty of help, like online college courses troops can take from anywhere.

Thomas Sullivan: There is a good chance that a lot of soldiers don't take advantage of the particular assets out there. That's really on them.

Advocates like Paul Rieckhoff say that's easy for officers with higher degrees to say. He says rank and file troops need serious government support to see action on the civilian job front.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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