Veterans Confront Grim Job Market


HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. -- During the seven months that he was stationed in Iraq, Joe Janssen served as an assaultman, a job that involved manning the turret gun in a Humvee and using shoulder-fired rockets and other explosives to support his fellow Marines.

Those skills were invaluable in war. But they are of little use now that he is back home in this Long Island hamlet. He has applied for job after job since leaving active duty well over a year ago, but his efforts have proved futile.

The Marine reservist used his veterans benefits to finish his bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Now, he is scouring for a job in law enforcement while he waits for his name to rise to the top of the New York state police hiring list -- which is unlikely to be anytime soon, given the state's severe budget problems.

In addition, more than one in five recent combat veterans claim service-related disabilities, including post-traumatic stress disorder. That has left veterans burdened with a complicated legacy: Although the public admires their service, it also sees combat veterans as especially prone to mental illness, substance abuse and violence.

Some analysts say that stigma is one reason that veterans often earn less than comparable workers -- a gap that lingers long after they leave active duty.

In recent years, the federal government has bolstered aid for veterans seeking to further their education. The post-Sept. 11, 2001, GI Bill provides combat veterans more assistance with college tuition, as well as stipends for books and living expenses.

Meanwhile, the Defense, Veterans Affairs and Labor departments offer skills training, assessment and other services to help veterans get jobs. Last year, President Obama signed an executive order establishing offices in federal agencies responsible for identifying job opportunities for veterans.

Some analysts say the educational and other benefits available to veterans -- including immediate unemployment insurance -- are also likely contributors to their high joblessness rates.

"It could be they are going to college. And it could be that they are accessing certain benefits that are available to them," said Beth Asch, a senior economist at the Rand Corp. "They could be more likely to go to college now because they have educational benefits that other people don't."

To be sure, some veterans are able to land good jobs on returning home. John Louis, 24, who served at Iraq's Camp Korean Village with Janssen, works as an electrician's apprentice, helping to wire new offices in a high-rise on Manhattan's East Side. He makes about $20 an hour, and there is plenty of overtime.

"I have a feeling that the only reason I got this job is because I had the Marine Corps on my resume," he said.

David Fuertes, 23, also feels like he is on track. A TOW missile gunner in Iraq, he drives a tricked-out red sports car and attends St. John's University. He also is a member of the New York City Police Department Cadets Corps, which is an apprenticeship program. Once Fuertes completes his degree, he plans to join the police force and, eventually, the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"My Marine experience, I wouldn't trade it for anything," Fuertes said. "The economy sucks. My friends who have no high school diploma or GED, they're stuck doing odd jobs or nothing. I look at my friends, not to brag, but I am the most successful. Now, some of them are asking me about joining."

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