What's Working
5:35 pm
Wed June 23, 2010

Getting Vets Back to Work

The recent unemployment figure for military veterans is just under 11 percent - close to the rate for non-vets. But, for some service men and women - especially those who have experienced combat - there are other challenges in finding employment.

At a recent stop in Dayton, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki painted two very different pictures of American military service. The first image - the men and women who proudly serve in places like Iraq and Afghanistan - The second image: that of the returning military veteran - facing challenges of unemployment, homelessness, drug addition and suicide.

"There's no difference in the youngsters in group one - image one or image two - the same walked across those high school grad platforms and willingly served in uniform. I have to ask, how do we keep them from entering that downward spiral?" says Shinseki.

"You come home without a support system"

In Ohio, more than 80 percent of military vets don't have a college degree. Even those who do pursue higher education, face challenges.

Ben Eckstein was a high school grad who has willing served in uniform. His family has a long tradition of military service, and with the promise of tuition money, the Ohio Army National Guard seemed like a good fit.

"I started getting through high school; my parents said 'hey, you better find a way to pay for college because we can't,'" says Eckstein.

That was eight years ago. Ben is still in the Guard, and he attends Wright State University. He wants to be a high school teacher, though he worries about the economy. Still, he feels lucky. Ben says he has a strong support system - one that many of his friends didn't have once they got back home.

'You share your life with these guys who are there to save your life if it comes to that, and you come home without a support system," says Eckstein.

"I can't explain why one vet makes it and one vet doesn't"

"I can't explain why one vet makes it and one vet doesn't," says Alan Clark. Until recently, Clark ran the transitional job and housing program at the Veterans Resource Center.

"...cause it might be two guys in one foxhole experiencing the same thing and one is able to rise above and one is not. That's what were about... the one that got stuck," Clark continues.

Operated by the faith-based Volunteers of America, The VRC's offers transitional housing and job placement services for vets. Clark knows first hand about the challenges they face.

"I don't know how much you know about war but wars are fought by children. I was 18 in Vietnam and guys in Iraq are 18 - 19 - every tour you do in Iraq lessens your chances of blending back in society and being "normal," says Clark.

"You need to improve in all areas of your life"

Jerome Barnett is celebrating is 92nd day of sobriety. He's an older vet, candid about his years of drug addition. He now lives at the Resource Center and once he's met the drug-free requirement for the 'job-placement program, he hopes to find steady employment.

"I haven't got a job yet but confident that I will. The program works if an individual puts themselves in the right frame of mind. This program continues to help me," says Barnett.

Awareness of the issues facing Vets is growing. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs web-site says quote "The days of being ashamed of mental health problems are over. Organizations like the VRC, and the VA Medical Center are doing what they can. The VRC serves more than hundred vets through its in-house programs and outreach services. And Alan Clark points out that because of Wright-Patt, we live in a very veteran friendly community, but getting those vets healthy and employed is a big job in itself.

"In tough times employers would prefer to hire people with no issues. Vets do have issues and they need a second chance - [we are] appealing to employers who understand that," says Clark.

National Guardsman and student, Ben Eckstein knows the value of a strong support structure for returning vets, but he notes, the chance for all vets to succeed comes from within.

"There are people who don't care what you did over there. There are people who do but they want to see your merits. We shouldn't fall back on our military service - not fully. You need to improve in all areas of your life," says Eckstein.

For now, Ben's focusing on finishing school and updating his resume. And he says it's the personal discipline and training he learned in the military that will help him succeed.