Local programs work to employ vets


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Local businesses and programs are going out of their way to employ veterans, as reports indicate vets have a higher unemployment rate.

While most of the nation is seeing high unemployment rates, U.S. military veterans who left the service after 2001 are finding it more difficult to find work. And more are expected to come home following a statement from President Obama in October that all combat troops in Iraq will be sent home by the end of 2011.

Recent statistics released by the Department of Labor states that the unemployment rate for military veterans who quit the service after 2001 stand 3 percentage points above the national average — 9 percent — at 12.1 percent.

Experts say making the transition from the military to school or work can be especially difficult.

"Coming from a tightly knit organization with everything planned out to being totally on one's own is an adjustment for anyone," said John Mikelson, the UI Veterans Center coordinator. "To have all the life experiences a veteran acquires, without peers to relate that to is difficult. Even just being an older nontraditional student in class with 18- to 19-year-olds creates a gap in conversations."

Brenda Dodge, operations director at Iowa City branch of Iowa Workers Development, said the center's Veterans Affairs regularly hosts workshops and seminars in which veterans are trained to showcase their acquired skills in a good light.

"Having employers understand what value a veteran brings to the workforce is very important for a veteran being hired," Dodge said, pointing out the additional skills that veterans possess from the nature of their previous job.

But even with employment assistance, Mikelson said, obtaining a B.A. has become indispensable in terms of landing a job.

"The B.A. has become the new high-school diploma in terms of entry-level job credentials."

Statistics released by the Labor Department in June showed that only 31 percent of vets had a postsecondary degree in Iowa. The percentage of veterans with a high-school degree was slightly higher at 46 percent.

Gordon Gates, senior recruiting consultant at HireVeterans.com — one of the biggest online job portals for U.S. veterans — said high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder can contribute to why veterans who come back have trouble "coping."

Gates said veterans are not getting as much help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, "although the help is more than it has ever been."

"HireVeterans.com does not follow a business model, because it is not a business. We basically reach out to veterans and provide them access to civilian jobs, and there is no charge," he said. "It was an innocent experiment for an important reason that has now helped many veterans."

A recent bill aims to encourage veteran employment by offering tax cuts ranging from $4,000 to $10,000 to employers that hire veterans who have been employed for more than six months. It creates a special education and retraining program with the aim to better veterans' chance for employment.

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