Soldier's lengthy job search not unique in bad economy
December 22, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Jason Hansman remembers the anticipation of leaving then Fort Lewis to enter the civilian world, go to college and get a good paying job.
Things started on the right track -- after a yearlong deployment to Mosul, Iraq, with the 448th Civil Affairs Battalion, he was accepted by the University of Washington in 2005.
He graduated in 2008 with a political science degree and ready to take on the world. Only, the military thought otherwise, as later that year, he received orders to go back to Iraq again.
A medical condition precluded him from going on that deployment, but the post-graduation entry-level jobs were gone that had previously been available back home. This was late 2008, so he was starting his job searching at the same time the financial markets crashed and the housing bubble collapsed.
As America was heading toward a recession, Hansman, like many other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, would be unemployed. Four months went by and dozens of applications were sent out until he got a job as a temporary night security guard at a Bellevue, Wash. mall.
"It wasn't horrible, but not exactly what I was looking for post college and military service," Hansman said.
He didn't let his self-esteem waver or a bad attitude creep in, as he kept applying to think tanks and nonprofits -- something had to come up that would utilize his political science education and military background.
"I listened to (jobseeker) podcasts and continually reworked my resume," the Lacey native said.
And then Hansman's perfect job came along -- a social media coordinator for a new nonprofit startup called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. After nailing the interview in New York, he was offered the job in 2009.
Hansman's story is not unique. Thousands of veterans, specifically those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, are experiencing longer-than-expected unemployment situations, and the total number of unemployed vets has topped a million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2009, 75,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were considered long-term unemployed, defined as 15 weeks or more looking for work.
The BLS released statistics earlier this year reflecting among Gulf War-era II (current conflicts) veterans, ages 18 to 24, an unemployment rate above 20 percent. Nearly two-thirds of all Gulf War-era II veterans were under 35.
The situation might become even more problematic, affecting Joint Base Lewis-McChord and similar large military communities. The Army and Air Force have announced troop reductions to take effect during the next five years. The Army plans to reduce its ranks by 50,000 Soldiers and the Air Force is already separating officers.
In the face of gloomy forecasts, the government and a local nonprofit are trying to help servicemembers and veterans with their job searches.
President Barack Obama signed the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 last month, signaling the nation's commitment to help military veterans find work. The bill gives tax credits to businesses that hire veterans and increases available job skill resources for vets.
The Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides up to $5,600 per veteran to businesses hiring unemployed veterans, and the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers up to $9,600 per veteran to businesses that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities.
The president commended the business community through the "Joining Forces" campaign, for its pledge to hire 135,000 more veterans and military spouses.
"If they can manage convoys moving tons of equipment over dangerous terrain, they can manage a company's supply chain," Obama said during the signing.
Keeping Soldiers off unemployment helps the government's budget as well. Last year, about $600 million in unemployment insurance was paid to Army veterans and retirees, said I Corps Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Verbeke to community leaders last month at JBLM.
"Getting people employed as soon as they transition out or shortly after will help," Verbeke said.
Hire America's Heroes
Seattle-based Hire America's Heroes wants to help veterans get the most important aspect of the job search journey -- the job offer letter. The organization provides resume screening and job skills, but without access to the country's top corporations and their recruiters, the offer letters might not come easily.
The nonprofit organization works with corporate recruiters and hiring managers to teach them the value of hiring veterans; it also works with transition coordinators at military installations to ensure servicemembers have access to corporate opportunities. Some big-name local corporations like Microsoft, Starbucks, the Port of Seattle and Boeing have agreed to give veterans access to their recruiters when jobs come available.
To build bridges between JBLM and the private sector, Executive Director Marjorie James and the Hire America's Heroes staff have signed a memorandum of agreement with base leadership to offer a career symposium at the base. Last May, senior executives from major corporations came to Lewis-McChord to learn about the diverse skill sets veterans offer the corporate world.
"We took them to a rifle range, had young Soldiers teach them how to shoot M-9s ... I found out later they had hung those paper targets up at their office," James said. "That's how important that meant to them."
The organization also offers a mentoring program for transitioning servicemembers. Veterans working in certain corporations agree to mentor the active-duty troops at least six months to a year from the end of their service.
"This gives them a foot in the door and gets around barriers to entry," James said. "This truly helps get our veterans jobs."
James' advice to veterans is to find two companies that they are interested in, find two jobs online in those companies, and submit resumes for those jobs to Hire America's Heroes. Staff members will look over the resumes, give advice and work with recruiters to obtain interviews.
Hire America's Heroes will host its next career day at CenturyLink Field Feb. 24. The event is open to all veterans and their Families.