March 20th, 2008
01:01 PM ET

Returning home, to fight another battle


Last month, a report commissioned for the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs said that 18% of discharged military vets are jobless.  Now that number reflects both former military men and women who are not looking for work (they might be suffering from PTSD or adjustment issues or just not ready to be back in the civilian world), but also those who are…and just can’t seem to find it – despite sending out resumes each day.  So with the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war now just behind us, we thought we’d find some veterans to find out why they are struggling.

Working with several veterans groups, like the Veterans Today Network  and Swords-to-Plowshares  we spoke to – and received emails from – almost 100 former servicemembers.  And I was frankly surprised at the universality of the theme:  they come back from serving their country with skills and training they thought would make them marketable in the civilian world…only to find that not quite to be the case. 

Sometimes it is employer biases against vets (that they are going to be unreliable, that they don’t know how to do anything but shoot a gun, that they all suffer from PTSD).  Sometimes it’s that after five or ten years in the armed forces, it’s difficult to even know how to write a resume or make the right contacts to find stable work.

I talked to dozens of vets who are couch-surfing with friends because they can’t afford their own place.  Or people who have moved several times around the country with their families, trying to find a job.  Often, they end up taking jobs well beneath their skill levels and pay grade only because they need to pay the bills. 

This is what brought David Mattingly and myself to Sacramento, CA last week – we spoke to a ten year army vet, a woman who after saving countless lives in Iraq, was awarded the military’s highest non-combat honor, and who is wondering why – after four years of being a civilian – she still can’t get seem to find a job that matches her background and skills. 

If you’re a veteran and have had a similar experience, let us know…

– Jason Rovou, 360° Producer

Filed under: AC360° Staff • Unemployment • Veterans
soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Nelson

    As a returning veteran from Vietnam I have empathy with the Iraqi vets.
    We fought wars for our upper crust to perpetuate their riches while the elitist children avoided any chance of injury. The Limbaugh's, Hannity's, Cheney's, Lieberman and the list goes on are now the war hawks attempting to use fear to perpetuate a war while ignoring the consequences, especially our returning vets. America's aggressive wars will never end unless no bid contracts for political gain and elitetist children are the humans that fight these abominations. Until then pay homage and bow before your elite who rule over you while marking your future for undeserved non consideration. I hate the upper crust and they prevail within all nations.

    March 20, 2008 at 5:47 pm |
  2. Terry Kerr

    Dozens of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars gathered in Silver Spring, Maryland last weekend for the Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan hearings (3/13/08-3/16/08), where they offered harrowing testimony about atrocities they had witnessed or participated in directly. Why isn't this being reported?

    March 20, 2008 at 5:43 pm |
  3. Annie Kate

    Seems like right now its a employer's market as there are more applicants than positions. In a situation like that everyone loses because you have nothing to leverage with for good pay Then there are the jobs that go overseas – the computer jobs, etc. with nothing comparable in pay level to replace them here. My SO is a Vietnam era veteran and has been looking for a job for 5 years after he was laid off from the last one (job went overseas); he's had to take a low paying job to help in just paying the bills. Since this job doesn't use his technical skills now when he gets an interview (and that is rare) he's told it's been too long since he used his skills and that they are looking for a "fresher" face (younger who they can pay less).

    I feel for the veterans who can't find jobs – they should be treated better. But the job situation right now is not good for anyone.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    March 20, 2008 at 4:14 pm |
  4. beverly

    This is so sad why aren't we in an uproar. Our vets deserve better!

    March 20, 2008 at 3:46 pm |
  5. RealityKing

    My nephew is one of those out of work vets. He's currently attending FSU on the GI bill. Chasing skirts instead of terrorists, and doing fine..

    March 20, 2008 at 3:17 pm |
  6. therealist

    Lucky for them, the US military has an education fund that they can participate in to further better themselves upon returning home.

    "Be all that you can be" is not just a military solgan..

    March 20, 2008 at 3:07 pm |
  7. Ham

    The military has several programs which are mandatory prior to departing. You have to take a transition course and are offered several other areas for helping with resume's, job hunting tools, interview skills... etc, etc, etc...

    Many don't take advantage...

    As far as STOP LOSS goes... it's not a draft or a re-enlistment.... when you sign for four years you still have a 4 year in-active reserve status in which they can call you back if needed... YOU KNOW THIS GOING IN.... the movie is very poorly researched and seriously incorrect. There is no current stop loss and no shortage of volunteers to go. Our troops rock...

    March 20, 2008 at 3:03 pm |
  8. megacephalus

    Joining the military is a career choice. One goes for the 'bennies' or because one is otherwise unemployable: low I.Q., barefoot, criminal history, poor education (but good dribbling skills), etc. Don't blame the 'employer of last resort. shut up and re-up.

    March 20, 2008 at 2:58 pm |
  9. nicholas

    Mr. Anderson
    I am a returning vet that served in the army for 15 years and I know just what the rest of my peers are going through. I have been refused heath care for an illness that I received in the army and jod assistance that was hoping for when I enlisted. The VA is a joke and the benefits that we though we was working for is a lie. You have to sing into the army national guard to get anything from the military. then you are still on the books to go right back to war. I have love for my country and I will defended her at all cost. The way I see vets being treated is a shame and a travesty to america..

    March 20, 2008 at 2:56 pm |
  10. LKK

    No doubt we have an unemployment problem, In all my years I've never seen our economy as bad as it appears to be. This isn't just a problem with military back from Iraq and next year with a new president isn't going to solve and change the economy. It will take a long time to come out of this one. Imagine democrats calling in our troops next year without jobs to be there for them. We are in a mess.

    March 20, 2008 at 2:54 pm |
  11. Debbie, NJ

    While the country and our Political system is focusing on the election campaign, and the current administration is doing only God knows what to save the face of the Rep party, I hope that a plan for dealing with our soldiers issues like joblessness, homelessness, PTSD, illness and the like are at the forefront and of utmost importance to the white house. We cannot wait for a new President to begin this. We should pull out of Iraq if for no other reason than to concentrate on and be able to support our soldiers and their families who have fought, died, and have made sacrifices that we can't even imagine so that we could continue to live this life in America. I'm speaking from experience. I am a widow of a war hero. Their battle in Iraq stops when they get home but they come home to some new battles. I am also an Obama supporter. Believe it or not our economic condition is going to get worse if we don't help our soldiers. Obama has experience in helping veterans. Once the withdrawal takes place this is going to be our biggest issue. So planning to bring them home is one thing but what are you going to do with them when they get here. My husband suffered from physical ailments and PTSD and the Vet system stinks. Before 9/11 you couldn't get the help you needed fast enough or if at all. I have spent numerous hours and days trying to get my husband the consistent medical and pschological help he needed. They pumped him up with a lot of drugs and sent him home. The drug use and alcoholic rate will go up to. Is America ready to handle this?.

    March 20, 2008 at 2:45 pm |
  12. xtina

    When you see the shoddy service and inefficiency of some VA facilities, how can anyone support handing the health and welfare of all us Americans over to the federal government in some sort of universal health care plan?! Not a good idea

    March 20, 2008 at 2:04 pm |
  13. Tina

    Yes our government is failing our soldiers, Our government are employees that seem to be failing many of our soldiers, but remember the government is US. We the people. We the people provide the funds necessary for this employment and programs. So do they need more money? Or do they need employees who actually care about the people they are serving and less about their “job”. That is a very tough question to answer because that job allows them to live a lifestyle. A lifestyle that is increasingly more expensive to live. Not only because of costs but expectations and wants.

    After WW2 we gave to help each other. We wanted to help each other. A very familiar feeling from 9/11. I was not as angry at those who did that to us and I was hurting for those families. I was more willing to give of myself and my gifts to help others. Bad things happen to good people, people take advantage of everything they can. But can the good people help the good people; and yet continue to do so when others take advantage.

    Candidates are raising millions of dollars for a JOB. Why can’t, don’t we raise millions in the same way for these types of injustices and as Americans take care of each other. Personal responsibility can not be ignored, but there are people who need support, resources and help. This needs to include also a smile, some genuine caring for the end results and quite often a Thank You.

    March 20, 2008 at 1:31 pm |
  14. Ayse

    I remember reading Generation Kill by Evan Wright' in it he writes of Marines

    'These young men represent what is more or less America's first generation of disposable children'

    Agree or disagree with the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq, the military are yesterdays heroes, today's heroes and tomorrow's heroes. Unfortunately, some parts of both the public and media are currently celebrity obsessed, and more concerned with excessive wealthaand have a short attention span.

    An eighteen year old soldiers thought of the day:
    will I live to see another day? will I be in one peice? will my friends stay safe? will a mine hit the humvee? Will my wife send me a picture of my little boy? will my mama send me some home-baked cookies? Will my eye infection blind me?

    An eighteen year old civilians thoughts of the day:
    Will the war end? Wil Hillary beat Obama?Shall I go to Florida for Spring break? Should I buy those Gucci shoes? Will Britney get her kids back? What are we going to eat for dinner? What club should we go to tonight?

    March 20, 2008 at 1:22 pm |
  15. Michael, NC

    I was disgusted when I saw late last year that National Guard troops were denied benefits awarded by the GI Bill giving educational funding for troops in war for 730 days. 1162 soldiers were pulled out of the fight after 729 days, ONE DAY BEFORE THE STATED AMOUNT!!! If that is not a civil disservice to those men and women, I honestly don't know what is. That is a slap in the face and goes to show just how much our government respects their soldiers. Now we hear of inability to find jobs, I find that very credible. People need to be welcoming and supportive, not condemning. It's filthy and wrong and I am disappointed by it.

    March 20, 2008 at 1:15 pm |
  16. Joshua

    After serving in the Air Force for 5 years I'll be separating and having to transition back to the civilian lifestyle this December. To even think for a second that I would have to stand in the unemployment line gives me an uneasy feeling. Not only that, but thinking that by the time I get out of the military I'll be 26 and pretty much starting all over again in the workforce. The military does have a lot of programs that try and ease the transition, but once you're no longer active-duty it's difficult to get that same kind of help. I can't speak for all vets but for me the military is all I've know and understood since i was 20, and it'll take time to adjust back to being civilian again. But giving vets the opportunity to use the training, knowledge, and experience gained while serving should give any employer confidence in our work ethic.

    March 18, 2008 at 9:38 am |
  17. Qwick from East Point, GA

    Yes! I'm a 23-year veteran of the Air Force. Part of the problem is that the VA refuses to recognize our disabilities after we get out of the service. For example, I incurred 3 or 4 depleted discs in my lumbar while I was in Adana, Turkey. Now that I'm out, I have a whole new enemy to fight – The VA! They refuse to give me any disability rating for my injured back! Outrrageous! That alone lowers my rating down to 10 which in turn means that I don't qualify for any sort of Re-education, vocational training or job search help from the VA. Or, if I do qualify, I was encouraged by the VA counselor to not apply for benifits now because if I'm denied, I lose all chance for benifits in the future! I was told that all of this is the rules under Bush! For all of the lipservice that people pay soldiers on TV saying how much they appreciate what we do and how America need to take care of the soldiers, it is now apparent to me that a much larger paycheck would probably have done more for me in the long run! America has such a short memory after you get out of the service!

    March 18, 2008 at 12:29 am |
  18. Lilibeth

    To jaz, actually, I'm not endorsing Mr. McCain. I didn't mean to sound like I'm endorsing him. You're right, though, about him knowing more than the other 2 candidates (and anybody else for that matter) about what it's like to be a veteran...

    Edmonds, Washington

    March 18, 2008 at 12:19 am |
  19. Desmon

    I’ve been out of the army for about thirty days now. It is no easy task to find a job now a days especially being a soldier who has been deployed to a foreign country for 15 months watching their friends die. I did the normal thing and went straight to the unemployment office and registered and thirty days later I still have not heard from them. I took actions into my own hands and did my own resumes and excluded the fact that I was in the army and low and behold I got a good job. A lot of the times a soldier chooses to leave the army because they are tired of the violence. So you avoid jobs where they would put you in the line of fire. I for one after five years of the army, don’t want to even hold a gun ever again so, I avoided the police force or boarder portal, which were the only jobs I was advised about by the unemployment office before I never heard from them again. I thought we were better than this, but I guess Britney Spears is more important.

    March 17, 2008 at 10:53 pm |
  20. Peter Groen

    One of my sons came back from Iraq and it took him over 2 years of sending out resumes to finally get interviewed and be hired. It was only after his reserve time was up that employers got interested.

    My other son, in the Air Guard, was told by his employer he would not be considered for promotion until he got out of the service since he kept getting called up to serve. The military lawyers said there were so many similar complaints, they didn't have the time to follow up on the issue. Something is rotten in our companies and our country

    March 17, 2008 at 10:23 pm |
  21. Illinois

    This is pathetic! These men and women fight and sometimes die for their country and we can't even make sure they have a job when they come home from deployment?? There is no excuse for this. And it's completely inexcuseable for employers to discriminate based on military status, though they will find a way to do so.

    We have people on welfare who are guarenteed benefits every month, whether they deserve them or not, and yet we have difficulty helping vets pay their bills and get a job?? What's wrong with this picture???

    March 17, 2008 at 8:34 pm |
  22. Kathleen, NC

    I feel for these men and women. What is plaguing them is the same thing that is plaguing all of us. Outsourcing and H-1B work visas. The government is outsourcing more and more of the jobs that it once had here in America and big business has chosen to either outsource jobs or hire people on H-1B visas. It appears to be must profitable to their stakeholders to employee cheap labor, rather than train (or retrain) quality labor.

    March 17, 2008 at 8:24 pm |
  23. Tammy

    We can pay for multiple generations of families to live off the government from the cradle to the grave never requiring them to do anything but have a pulse to get a check, housing, food stamps, and Medicaid; but we can't help the men and women who were willing to die serving our country or their spouses and children if they did die serving our country (at least not to the level they deserve and have earned). Pretty unbelievable and embarrassing. God bless our current state of democracy!

    March 17, 2008 at 6:58 pm |
  24. jaz

    Lilibeth of Edmonds, Wa that sounds like an endorsement for Senator McCain? It seems like he ought to know what it is like to be a veteran as opposed to the other possible candidates. jaz of Edmonds, Wa too!

    March 17, 2008 at 6:35 pm |
  25. Ron

    I think it is a discrace that our boys do not have a job when they get back. At least they are not throwing rotten eggs and tomatoes at them like they did me when I got home from Nam.
    Why don't they make it mandatory that all civilian contractors working for the different governmental departments and different military bases around the U.S. have to hire the veterans before they hire another civilian. Their are thousand of jobs that the military hire civilians to do, give the jobs to Vets.

    March 17, 2008 at 4:35 pm |
  26. Bob from Rome NY

    I can understand and relate to what is happening with veterans. I served my country for 28 years. When I retired my skills in electronics were rather outdated due to the antiquated equipment the military had for me to work on. Also, hands on work is limited once you are in supervisory positions. In order to be viable in the job market I would have had to go back to school to catch up. Fortunately, I was able to take a new path to a new career. These vets need to take advantage of the educational benefits they earned while serving their country.

    March 17, 2008 at 4:23 pm |
  27. is

    Interesting read. thanks

    March 17, 2008 at 4:04 pm |
  28. Shannon

    Clinton, Maryland
    I served in the US Navy for twenty years. My son served in the Us Army for four years and has a severe case of PTSD from his one year tour in Iraq. First, as a veteran I am apalled with the way the VA handles our claims. The personnel that are hired and working at the VA aren't veterans. I question the training they had to screen a medical record. They are GS-3/4/5/6/7. These people have been in this system for years and have stagnated to the point that the new veterans receive substandard treatment. The VA must be overhauled and replaced these personnel with veterans who know the system. It took almost a year after my son's return fron Iraq to even get in the VA system in Houston, Texas to treat him. I am dealing with the VA in Washington, DC...TOTAL NIGHTMARE . They are back logged as far as processing paper work. I even applied for a position at the VA and received a notice stating that I wasn't qualified. Yet I go to the VA and have personnel who lack any customer service training, speak to me like I am the enemy. And you really don't want to calll them on the phone because they are attitudal if you have the sense to question what they are saying. Even their supervisors are ignorant. So this is what we are dealing with.
    Retired USN Navy Corpsman June 2005

    March 17, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  29. xtina

    It's not the responsibility of government to get ex-military a job. It is a joke tho, that employers have qualms about hiring them. I'd rather have someone who learned discipline and was unselfish enough to serve his or her country than any other employee.

    March 17, 2008 at 3:25 pm |
  30. Julie Landes


    I want to tell you all to see a GREAT movie called Stop Loss. It was filmed in Austin. — Getting to the point read on
    What is important is what this movie brings to light —the back door draft that is going on. (and I know some of you have heard me talk about this)
    As a year ago 81,000 yes 81,000 have been what is called stop loss! What this means is men & women are MADE to re-inlist. Yes the men and women have done their tour of duty and are made to do one, two more tours.

    I think if the USA brings back the Draft, we as Americans would start paying more attention to the war and just MAYBE people will revisit how to stop and protect our borders from terrorist. Just think if your daughter or son was going to be Drafted, would you pay more attention to the war, would you speak up a little more?

    We have been at war for eight years, when is it going to end? When are you going to speak out or think how can the USA can do a better job in protecting the USA.

    Their will always be terriosts, if we are going to stay AT WAR, let"s bring back the draft.

    Go see the movie, think
    God Bless—

    March 17, 2008 at 3:10 pm |
  31. Stewart

    If the government runs controls everything, then we are not a democracy. If the public wants things done, then they need to do it and quit begging for the government to do it.'

    March 17, 2008 at 3:06 pm |
  32. Lilibeth

    It's another sign of poor planning by the current administration. I hope the next administration will be better at taking care of our veterans and making sure that they have a job to come home to. After risking their lives serving their country, this is the least they deserve.

    Edmonds, Washington

    March 17, 2008 at 2:56 pm |
  33. Lisa

    Just curious - but why is it our government only supports our troops while they are deployed and active. Should supporting our troops also include when they return? Before they critize the citizens of this country for not being behind this war, they need to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask themselves what they are doing to support the men and women they sent off to combat upon their return. We seem to have forgotten that aspect of supporting our troops.

    On the brighter side, they should be proud to know they served their country so that their jobs could be outsourced overseas for less expensive wages and larger profits for the companies. (And yes, this was said with full-blown sarcasm.)

    March 17, 2008 at 2:56 pm |
  34. Stewart

    This is inexcusable and intolerable. I got my first real job after I got out of the military in 1972. I was hired over others because I was a veteran. It was that company's (a rather large company) policy to hire veterans first. It was this company's belief that if a person could spend 4 years serving their country, then the company could take the time to train that individual to work in their system.
    It is an embarrassment to this country that these fine young people have difficulty finding employment. Companies and individuals reap untold rewards for their service to their country. It shouldn't even be necessary to ask for payback.

    March 17, 2008 at 2:48 pm |
  35. Lyubomyr

    18% is quiet a large number of veterans... but how many of those 18% are current college students who take life one step at a time?

    March 17, 2008 at 2:44 pm |
  36. Cindy

    It is sad what the veterans have to go through once they get home. You would think that we would take better care of them since they are out protecting our country, our interests and others lives. But I guess it's just like anything else,when it's out of sight then it's out of mind. Thanks for bringing this back to our attention. Looking forward to seeing the report tonight.

    Cynthia Covington, Ga.

    March 17, 2008 at 2:42 pm |
  37. betty ann

    To think that our soldiers are unemployed after serving our country in a war is total disgust and disgrace!
    We should offer rehabilitation and job opportunities to our soldiers.
    Is anyone listening?

    March 17, 2008 at 2:38 pm |
  38. Palonek

    It is hard to imagine what one might feel when one comes home from several months in a hostile territory only to find that the country they fought for has no jobs for them. Perhaps it might be a good idea for the military to create a division where jobs, resumes are created for veterans before they return home. Even a simple idea of preparing the veterans resume before they return will sure mean something. I will certainly watch your show tonight. edward-palonek.com

    March 17, 2008 at 2:36 pm |
  39. LAURA

    This country has been in a recession for months now. The only person that does not get it is George Bush!!!! It's going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. I believe the only real hope is when a new Democratic PRESIDENT gets sworn in. I believe once the rest of the world feels there is some hope in ending Iraq things will start to change. But we are in for a long year. Laura

    March 17, 2008 at 2:36 pm |