Vets Back From War Face Shocking Reality
Columbia Patch— When Andrew Smith III talked with his U.S. Marine Corps platoon mates in Iraq before he returned to Maryland in 2009, he recalled they agreed finding a job in a recession would be tough.
But he said he never imagined it would be like this.
Smith said he sleeps four hours a night to make time for his part-time job loading baggage for Delta Airlines, training classes in the afternoons and searching for a full-time job with benefits to support his wife and two kids without relying on food stamps and other assistance.
But last week, during a job fair organized by the Maryland Department of Transportation for veterans in Baltimore, he was almost optimistic.
“For a while, we as veterans feel like we were forgotten about,” said Smith, 29, of Baltimore, who served two tours in Iraq as a field radio operator. “We felt as though we were walking around like zombies. Then the movement came along and we felt recognized and it feels good.”
The “movement” Smith is referring to is the growing awareness in Maryland and nationally of the dire unemployment picture of post-9/11 veterans once they leave the war zone.
Veterans at a job fair April 30 told stories of the perfect storm they faced upon returning home.
“We were already in the midst of the recession as we were getting out, so we were figuring work might be a little hard to find,” said Smith, “but it’ll be there, we won’t be unemployed for too long. But that wasn’t the case.”
Veterans said there were fewer jobs than when they left, higher health care and fuel costs and the American public got a skewed view of the potential psychological effects on those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan—wars at the center of fierce political debate at home.
At one point, a man at the job fair seemed to embody the frustration of vets everywhere when he retreated from the hubbub of the employment booths and employment pitches. He sat quietly in a chair in a cluster of empty ones declining to give his name but responding to a reporter’s question by saying he was overwhelmed by the stress of looking for work.
In Maryland, the 8.9 percent average unemployment rate among the 28,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is higher than the state’s overall average.
Joblessness for post-9/11 veterans nationally was 12.1 percent in 2011, with young male veterans between the ages of 18 to 24 who served after 9/11 at 29.1 percent unemployment, according to March 20 Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Job fairs are being held across Maryland in efforts to link veterans to jobs. Nationally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has held about 140 job fairs for veterans and about 7,000 have found jobs through the “Hiring Our Heroes” initiative, reports the Los Angeles Times.
“It’s almost like they want to repay you for what you did.”
A growing number of counties in Maryland are also offering preference in hiring to veterans, a practice already in place at the state level. The Maryland Department of Transportation started offering veterans preference May 1. That came a day after this week’s job fair, which it organized and was the first of its kind with 52 vendors at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore.