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Excerpt: "For a long time, post 9/11 veterans have faced a much higher jobless rate than the general population. Just a year ago, it stood at 12.5%, well above the national average. A big push by employers and government knocked the rate to 7.6% in February, even below the overall US unemployment rate of 8.3%."

An injured Marine is evacuated from Now Zad, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 06/20/09. (photo: David Guttenfelder/AP)
An injured Marine is evacuated from Now Zad, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, 06/20/09. (photo: David Guttenfelder/AP)

From Combat to Busboy: Looming Job Challenges for War Vets

By Aaron Smith, CNN Money

24 March 12


eterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face unique hurdles in an already tough job market.

Many have suffered physical and mental injuries. Others have a hard time getting employers to see the value of their wartime experience.

"Being the best mortar man in the best battalion in the world doesn't mean a whole lot when you come out," said Sean Parnell, author of "Outlaw Platoon," a book about his experiences as an Army platoon leader in Afghanistan in 2006. "Fifty percent of my men who are now out of the military are living paycheck to paycheck - working as a busboy, or at a bar, or maybe not working at all."

More than 2.2 million soldiers, Marines and sailors have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Another 90,000 troops are slated to return from Afghanistan by 2014.

For a long time, post 9/11 veterans have faced a much higher jobless rate than the general population. Just a year ago, it stood at 12.5%, well above the national average. A big push by employers and government knocked the rate to 7.6% in February, even below the overall U.S. unemployment rate of 8.3%.

Still, many veterans struggle to find work.

"These guys have these bang-up resumes for the military and then they get out and civilians don't know what to do with them," said Parnell. "So they end up working at a Subway."

This is what happened to one of his former troops, 27-year-old Marcel Rowley, who went from being a combat infantryman in Afghanistan to a minimum-wage busboy in California. Rowley, who had been in firefights with insurgents in the Afghan mountains, had to compete against high school kids to get a restaurant job.

"It took a lot of self control," Rowley said, recalling the times when he dealt with difficult customers. "I definitely had times when I wanted to rip people's faces off."

He realized his military experience meant nothing at home. He had gone to boot camp right after high school, and he said that in the eyes of employers it was almost as if he'd been frozen in time.

Rowley - who is now a full-time student on the GI Bill at South Lake Tahoe Community College in California - and many young vets like him never had a chance to build resumes in the civilian work force.

Other ex-soldiers have difficulty getting work because they're suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which can often go undiagnosed, according to Parnell, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in Pittsburgh.

Chris Brown, who also served with Parnell, struggled to find work for years before going on full disability for PTSD. When returned from Afghanistan in 2007 he initially received 50% disability for PTSD and shrapnel injuries. He tried to find work in the United States, and then spent a couple of years working odd jobs in Canada.

"I actually had to move to Canada to find work," Brown said, a former Humvee gunner. "I was an illegal immigrant in Canada!"

When he finally came back to the states, Veterans Affairs put him on 100% disability for PTSD, which now pays him $32,000 a year.

Phillip Baldwin, 40, had a career to come home to after his stint in Afghanistan, but both his tour and his options were cut short when he was shot in the spine and foot during a firefight.

Before joining the military, the father of four worked as a conductor and dispatcher at the St. Louis railroad terminal. He was medically retired from the Army and, after months of hospitalization, returned to work for the railroad.

Baldwin's injuries prevented him for being a conductor, so he became a dispatcher. Then his nerve damage got worse, and he had to go on a morphine pump just to function. The drugs created a safety hazard, so his responsibilities were scaled back. Eventually, he was laid off.

"They didn't have to keep on a damaged employee who really didn't add a tremendous amount to their work force," Baldwin said. "I acknowledge that. But I felt kind of ashamed."

He realized he had to rely on his mind instead of his body to make a living, so he returned to college through a program funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Baldwin expects to graduate in May with a degree in political science from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. He will begin law school at St. Louis University in August.

Every soldier has a military occupational specialty, a skill that requires specific training. Some of these skills - such as pilot, dentist or mechanic - have a natural fit in the civilian world.

But infantryman often find that their skills are not so easily transferable - unless they want to be police officers.

Chris Cowan, who served in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, has been an officer with the Syracuse Police Department in New York for four years. He says it's a job where wartime experience is a valuable skill.

"To be a good cop, it helps to be a little paranoid, and infantrymen who have been in combat tend to be a little paranoid," Cowan said.


See Also: Best jobs if you're leaving the military your social media marketing partner


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+4 # grouchy 2012-03-25 02:33
Maybe someone could scam us up a new war--that would put some guys to work as has these last two events. And it is job security for all the folk working in the factories making the hardware too!
+2 # Ralph Averill 2012-03-25 08:31
I appreciate what I hope is the sardonic irony in your post.
The problem is that we would have to borrow money from the Chinese to make both payrolls. Better we should borrow the money and invest it in repairing, maintaining, and improving infrastructure and education. The dividends from such investment would at some point foreclose borrowing money from the Chinese. We might even lend them some.
+2 # Ralph Averill 2012-03-25 03:44
It is sadly ironic that the tv ads encouraging enlistment, "Be an army of one!", talk about how the army builds the skills and character employers crave, as if enlistment gives you a leg up on the competition.
+5 # John Locke 2012-03-25 08:37
It may have been for Chris Cowan who became a police officer, as many are now doing, but the net affect, we have a more military style police force, and the question that this raises is when will this paranoia be their undoing and actually make them more violent toward us. They can never forget the trauma of war and many still harbor the affects of PTSD even without overt symptoms.

We can take men out of war….but we can’t take the affect of war out of men!
0 # Obwon 2012-04-12 03:56
It certainly tends to make "yes" men, but that's hardly what anyone needs to be. A few years in the "electricity" of a war zone, can't be good for the "normalized" people business needs. (sorry, watching the character count impacts grammar etc.,)

Most civilians know veterans only from movies and news stories. Very bad this PTSD thing, as bosses see visions of law suits in the making if the new hire goes off, remembering that he's also combat trained, where the customer likely to provoke him isn't. (Shudder) But the military doesn't offer "half way houses" like convicts get, to ease the way back in to a non-war life. Maybe they should start thinking about turning some of those closing bases into halfway zones. Mixing civilians with returning troops, give them time to adjust and wind down from the old war footing, while assessing their skills and utility. The best weapons men could probably give the weapons makers a few pointers etc.
0 # jwb110 2012-03-25 12:02
The Fed, the State and the people should take a good look at this problem. In a way it doesn't look to different then some of the reasons for the Arab Spring. A group of people with skills and education could find no way to pass an ever lowering glass ceiling. The Vets have marched before but that was a Drafted army. These guys are professionals and the enlisted may be loath to fire on their brothers as has happened in the past.
0 # reiverpacific 2012-03-25 13:28
And these statistics are no doubt way-y-off reality as the ones that are just set within a very limited set of "official" figures; you can almost double them in the non-vet world -who knows how much it really is for the subject demographic?
And all that after being conned into a cannon-fodder role in so many unnecessary wars under the heading, "Well, if you're not killed, maimed for life, or return without going crazy, don't expect any help on the "Outside!", especially from those corporate servants who sent you there in the first place.
0 # freelyb 2012-03-25 15:54
This won't be popular, but I think those who join the military have the same responsibility to ask themselves WHY they're doing so, and truly explore what implications it has for their future. I am tired of being expected appreciate a service I never asked for in the first place.
0 # Granny Weatherwax 2012-03-26 09:05
The one thing I get from this is that a Military career used to be a great option for many poor kids, but not any more.
With stop loss and the documented defaulting of VA for many afflictions (PTSD prominent because there is no visible scar) it seems that the 1%ers get to trim the cost of using the people with low consumtion abilities (PC for "the poor") to fight their wars for other people's resources.
0 # mhog jones 2012-03-26 22:51
now go pump my gas, you big-bad-killing machines!
0 # danielkirkland 2012-03-27 07:19
We are a nonprofit organization called TerraLucent. We are launching a new project on a 300 acre farm in Southern Iowa. We are very keen on working with returning veterans to offer training in organic farming, permaculture, renewable energy, retrofitting communities for ecological sustainability, and self-reliance in these turbulent times. We believe that there is an incredible opportunity of working with returning veterans to create programs similar to the depression era Works Progress Administration (WPA). However, this would be a program that would work towards transitioning communities to sustainability.

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