Young Vets Hard-Hit by Unemployment


John Duwe carries himself with a bearing that telegraphs his service in the United States Marine Corps Reserve -- forthright, with eyes locked in.

Duwe reflexively stands at parade rest during casual conversation even out of uniform. His demeanor displays and demands respect.

Missouri employment officials are also redoubling the effort to ensure that employers with federal contracts in excess of $100,000 are complying with guidelines that veterans comprise a portion of their work force.

"We're not asking [employers] to hire veterans above everybody else," said program director Lt. Col. Alan Rohlfing. "We're asking them to consciously consider the attributes of veterans that can have a positive impact on the work force."

Illinois, meanwhile, is committed to assistance programs that provide individual job counseling for veterans, tax incentives that encourage businesses to hire veterans and other resources designed to assist the transition back to civilian life.

" 'Are you a veteran?' is the first thing the greeter asks when clients walk through the door," said Vicki Niederhoffer, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security's Belleville field office.

Bob Schaefer, of Fairview Heights, who was laid off as a structural design engineer last June, appreciates the sentiment. But he contends his Air Force service during the 1960s should not give him priority in the job market over nonveterans.

That's not to say Schaefer is averse to veterans programs that Illinois has to offer. Schaefer is jobless at age 60, and with "so little work out there," he says he will seize any advantage.

Del Senn, the veterans representative in the Florissant office of the Missouri Career Center, says most veterans -- like Schaefer -- don't believe that hiring should be a quid pro quo for military service.

Unfortunately, he added, prolonged unemployment -- following prolonged deployments -- has a way of changing that viewpoint.

"They feel that their country has abandoned them," said Senn, a Vietnam veteran. "They feel that they are not getting their righteous due. I'm not saying it's true. But I can understand why they feel that way."

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