Unemployed veterans work to make inroads

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Illinois State Police northern recruiter Sgt. Jose DeJesus of Chicago shakes hands with Ryal Deveau of Waukegan during a job fair for veterans held at the Gurnee American Legion. Deveau served in the U.S. Navy and Army. | Thomas Delany~ Sun-Times Media

Unemployment last year was 12 percent for men who served during Iraq and Afghanistan compared with 9.3 percent among civilian males, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Women were even worse off with 36 percent of young female veterans jobless in 2011 compared with a 14.5 percent rate among young women 18 to 24, according to the report released last week.

But there have been some encouraging signs with unemployment rates among veterans trending down so far this year.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” says Jim Borbely, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Obama administration has a campaign that includes tax credits for employers, corporate hiring pledges, job fairs and new initiatives by the Pentagon and departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor to help ex-servicemembers prepare for and find work.

A survey of employers in January by the Society for Human Resource Management, the largest association of personnel officials with 260,000 members, also found positive signs with 64 percent of companies hiring veterans in the previous 36 months, up from 53 percent in 2010.

Still, there were 154,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans out of work last month.

Thomas Garlic, 26, who lives with his wife and 5-year-old son outside Chicago, was discharged in 2008 with post-traumatic stress disorder and has been largely jobless ever since.

“It was very depressing,” he says. “Every time I would go up to bat, I would just strike out.”

Now, though, Garlic and seven other vets are on their way to becoming electricians, thanks to Elk Grove-based USA Cares. The non-profit that provides financial and advocacy assistance to post-9/11 veterans and the Illinois chapter of the Association of Builders and Contractors linked up for the effort.

The vets already have jobs promised by a contractor based in Champaign, and $10-an-hour income while in class to help them support their families.

Their $4,000 apprentice tuition is being fronted by USA Cares until GI Bill vocational coverage comes through, says Bill Nelson, head of the non-profit.

After injuries from roadside bomb explosions in Iraq, Garlic eventually abused pain medication, a common problem in the military. The abuse led to a general discharge, what many employers took as a red flag, he says.

Past that hurdle, Garlic says his life is turning around. “Personally, I’m lifted. My wife has seen a change. I’m happy,” he says. “I’m getting good grades.”

Gannett News Service

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