Hector Rivas has been deployed twice since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and one of the top things on his mind during his recent 10 months in Afghanistan was finding a job when he got home.
"Knowing the economy was bad, knowing I didn't have a job to come back to, I was worried," Rivas said.
Rivas, 45, of West Palm Beach, is one of more than 2 million veterans who have served since 2001 in Iraq and Afghanistan and returned to the civilian labor force. Those veterans have a 12.1 percent overall jobless rate, but 30.2 percent of second Gulf War veterans ages 18 to 24 are unemployed and 13 percent of those aged 25 to 34 don't have jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Especially high unemployment for second Gulf War vets has several causes. Not only is there a surge of young people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan as the U.S. pulls back from action there, but those veterans are entering the labor force at much higher rates than their non-military counterparts.
While the bad economy makes it difficult to find jobs, vets face other obstacles as well. Those in the reserves or National Guard can face resistance from employers worried about repeat deployments. Some employers, fearing the possibility of combat stress, don't want to take on veterans. They also can fail to appreciate the many skills veterans have mastered while in service that translate well to civilian jobs.
Veterans must make adjustments as well.
Returning to civilian life can be overwhelming, especially for a younger person, said Kelly Heatherman, a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves and manager of a retail sales team with AT&T; Mobility.
"It hits you hard because the military is a very large aparatus that supports every aspect of your daily, your awake and sleeping, life," Heatherman said recently at his Boca Raton office.
Heatherman said he missed his Marine buddies when he left for graduate school, but he ultimately found a comfortable place with AT&T; and its predecessor companies, where he has worked through two post-9/11 deployments. Most recently he spent 14 months in Baghdad and was offered his current job before he returned in early 2010.
AT&T; has a good structure for many veterans, because it is regimented much like the services, said Chris Norton, who has recently taken on a new role at AT&T; as Military Talent Attraction Manager.
Norton, a major in the U.S. Army Reserves, coaches hiring managers across the company on how to interview veterans to find quality employees. The company has stepped up its efforts to hire veterans and offers assistance such as the Military Skills Translater Tool that matches military occupations codes with AT&T; job descriptions.
While business people speak of a patriotic duty to hire veterans, many don't unless they see a benefit to their company, The Center for a New American Security found in its Employing America's Veterans report released last month.
"People are patriotic when it serves them or when it's convenient for them," said veteran Michael Irvin, 43, who moved to Palm Beach County in January. He's been looking for a job ever since.
The nonpartisan, nonprofit center interviewed employers who said it's often difficult to understand the skills and experience gained from military service, and some veterans are just not qualified for the jobs they seek. But some employers also worry that those serving in the reserves or national guard will be redeployed for long periods or that combat stress will be reflected in the workplace in angry outbursts or violence.
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