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Vet Struggles in Civilian Job Market

After nearly 10 years in the U.S. Army, former Staff Sgt. Juan Garza is fighting a battle that he didn't think would be as challenging as it has become -- entering the civilian world for the first time in his adult life.

"I'm trying to get by as best as I can. I'm fresh out, and still trying to figure things out," the 29-year-old Garza said. "Things are falling into place, so far so good."

Garza, a native of McAllen, Texas, left the Army three months ago and moved his family to San Luis, Ariz., where his wife has family.

"I really didn't expect to be in that long," he said of his time in the Army. "Then I found myself actually thinking about making it a career."

A combat veteran with the airborne infantry, Garza is extremely proud of his service to the country and was deployed to Iraq four times, beginning in 2003, then again in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

"It was a struggle for survival on a day-to-day basis. It never gets any easier, but it seemed like it went by really quick though," Garza said. "It seemed like I was always going back and forth. My wife was my support system. She understood what I was going through. It was rough on her also."

Leaving the military during a recession and tight job market has made the past few months a struggle.

Garza is currently working three jobs -- one full-time, one part-time and one seasonal -- just to make financial ends meet.

"I'm always busy," said Garza, a confident, self-possessed, yet modest man. "But it is what you make of it. I have a family to take care of first, then comes me."

Garza's full-time job is as a security guard at the Yuma Palms Regional Center, while his part-time job is at Home Depot. The seasonal job is at YPG, where he works with a training and support company.

While he realizes there aren't many professions where his combat experience would be considered a useful job skill, Garza said he is thinking about what kind of work he wants to do -- or can do -- and that he already has a few options he is considering, including returning to school to pursue a college degree.

His biggest struggle so far, Garza admits, has been figuring out how to get his veteran's benefits. While benefits are available, Garza said, he, like other vets, feels that it seems you have to fight to get them.

"It is almost like the system isn't worth it," Garza said. "You don't know who you can trust." He recently met a Vietnam veteran named Richard Hernandez, who has helped get him in touch with the veterans services that are available in the Yuma area and is helping him navigate his way through the system.

"It has been difficult to know where to go to get the right answers," Garza said. "I don't expect anything from anyone, but when you need help, sometimes it seems like there is no one there."

He wasn't physically wounded during any of his deployments, but Garza said it is the injuries you can't see that can take the longest to heal. He has an appointment at the VA hospital in Tucson later this month for treatment and counseling for what he believes may be symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Garza said he had could have stayed in the Army, if he had chosen to do so, because he had an offer to become a drill instructor. He explained that he decided not to accept it because he felt he wouldn't be able to do the job the way he felt it needed to be done.

"I grew up in the military when it was rough and tough and you had to get through it," Garza said. "Soldiering is much different nowdays. Discipline is not what it used to be, either."

He explained that drill instructors aren't allowed to be as hard on Soldiers as they were when he enlisted and that he thought he would get "in trouble" for being too hard on recruits.

"Nowdays, you have to be sensitive to the Soldier's needs. You can't talk to them anymore they way we used to," Garza said. "You have to be careful about what you say. You can't say anything to them that would make them feel like they were being singled out or harassed."

For now, Garza said he will keep doing everything he can and see what the future brings.

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