Military veterans struggle to find jobs

Jeff Tyler Sep 2, 2011

Military veterans struggle to find jobs

Jeff Tyler Sep 2, 2011

Tess Vigeland: We visited one job fair earlier this hour, filled with mostly African-American job-seekers, who face a national average of 16 percent unemployment. Joblessness is also high for military veterans trying to re-join the workforce. The average unemployment rate for vets of Iraq and Afghanistan is 12.5 percent. In some states it’s as high as 23 percent.

So this week, when President Obama spoke to the American Legion convention in Minneapolis, he outlined the administration’s commitment to help.

President Barack Obama: I’ve proposed a “Returning Heroes” tax credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans. And a “Wounded Warrior” tax credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans with a disability.

With more troops returning home, we asked Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler to visit the front lines of veterans’ unemployment at a job fair just down the freeway in Culver City.

Jeff Tyler Thousands descended on the Sony movie studio looking for work. These weren’t actors pretending to be soldiers, but the real deal. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been sponsoring job fairs like this one, just for veterans. People like 38-year-old Monica Faraldo.

Monica Faraldo: I got out of active duty last year and I’ve been unemployed for almost a year.

Her last job was as a chaplain’s assistant. She did a tour in Afghanistan and counseled hundreds of soldiers. But her skills aren’t much appreciated outside the military.

Faraldo: There’s no chaplain’s assistant jobs. There’s chaplain jobs, but not chaplain assistant jobs in the civilian sector.

OK, a chaplain’s assistant is an unusual position. But even for the most common jobs, there’s a disconnect between the military and civilian workplaces.

Joe Sharpe: The problem is that the skills and training that you received in the military are not always transferable to the civilian workplace.

Joe Sharpe directs the economic division of the American Legion, the nation’s largest organization for veterans. Sharpe says many civilian jobs require specific certifications and those can vary from state to state.

Sharpe: If you’re trained as an auto mechanic in the military, a lot of states won’t recognize that certification or that type of work, and then that veteran has to start all over again.

These certification requirements can create major set-backs. Former military accountants, air traffic controllers and medics all have to re-learn what they’ve already been trained.

Balreet Khaira: As a medic, we’re trained to do everything from trauma, life-saving that you would see a paramedic doing.

That’s 22-year-old Balreet Khaira. Everybody calls her “Bree.”

Khaira: I was in Iraq for a year and a half. And I was a line medic, so I was attached to an infantry unit.

Now, as a National Guard medic, she teaches life-saving skills to soldiers at Camp Roberts, Calif.

Sounds of explosions and screams

Khaira: Got a soldier down! Where are you going to tie the tourniquet, sir?

Soldier: The highest point of the injury.

Khaira: Roger.

Soldier: Where are you hit? Right here? Right here?

On top of being a teacher, Bree is also a pre-med student. Her experience as a medic doesn’t count as credit toward her degree.

Khaira: It goes to waste because you have to do all this training all over again, even though you know and you have the skill set to do up to what an RN can do.

Money from the National Guard helps pay her tuition, but it doesn’t cover everything. So Bree needs another job. At the job fair, she passes out resumes to the reps from the VA, the Red Cross and Cedars-Sinai hospital.

Khaira: They took it and they said they have an administrative position open. They don’t have anything medical. But I mean, that’s fine. As long as I get my foot into the door. That’s really what matters.

There’s another door — an invisible one — that can be even harder for vets to open. Companies don’t talk about it publicly. But privately, they tell Joe Sharpe with the American Legion.

Sharpe: They have expressed concern the expense of taking on a veteran that may have some sort of injury — PTSD or physical injuries — and what that will do to the cost of their health insurance.

Sharpe says companies don’t realize the VA covers all medical costs for the first five years after someone leaves the military. So what does that mean for the company’s insurance costs?

Sharpe: They can actually save money.

To motivate employers, President Obama recently proposed tax credits for companies that hire unemployed vets, plus more help for service members re-entering the job market.

Obama: I’m directing the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to design what we’re calling a reverse boot-camp — to help our veterans learn about everything from benefits to how they can translate their military training into industry-accepted credential.

The policies, the tax breaks, the job fairs — all positive steps. But sometimes they’re still not enough. I checked in with Bree a month after the job fair. She expected to get calls about entry-level positions from two or three companies.

Khaira: I didn’t hear back from any of them.

Monica Faraldo, the chaplain’s assistant, found a job. But it’s pretty far out of her field. She’s working as a temp.

In Los Angeles, I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace Money.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.