Too many veterans are coming back from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to danger on the homefront — the danger of unemployment. Nationwide, the jobless rate among young veterans is nearly 13 percent, up from 9.2 percent just a couple months ago. That’s compared to 8.2 percent for the general population. In New York, it’s even worse, topping, for all of last year, 15 percent.
Various government programs have been launched to help returning veterans find work, and more are planned. Just last week the state Assembly passed a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Bill Scarborough of Jamaica that would establish an employment database for veterans. It’s awaiting Senate action. Earlier this month state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. of Howard Beach and Assemblyman Mike Miller of Woodhaven held a jobs fair for vets and their spouses. And these are just three of the many officials who have focused on helping returning servicemen and women find work.
But the numbers show that more needs to be done, so now the Queens Chronicle is launching a new initiative to help connect veterans with employers, utilizing the tools at our disposal — advertising and the news pages — to help.
We’re creating a new Situation Wanted section — “SitWant” in military talk — that will offer veterans free ads in which to list their skills and qualifications where area businesses can see them. We’re ready to devote as much of our valuable ad space to the project as necessary — the more veterans who sign up, the better.
“I’m sure most people would be happy to hire a veteran,” said Stanley Merzon, the Chronicle’s cofounder and a Navy veteran from the Korean War era, who came up with the idea. “Everybody’s got to do their best to say thank you and get these servicemen and women jobs. It’s the least we can do to help get them employed as soon as possible.”
Leaders of area veterans’ groups say it’s a great idea, and one with advantages over job fairs and the like. One is retired Army Sergeant First Class Marvin Jeffcoat, a member of VFW Post 2813 in Woodside and state chairman of the VFW’s Legislative Committee. Jeffcoat served in combat in Operation Desert Storm, the 1991 war against Iraq. He says that among the problems veterans face when they return, some are leery about going to job fairs, and would prefer something like the SitWant project that offers them some privacy at the same time as renewed hope in their search.
Jeffcoat gets a lot of notices for jobs veterans can fill, but they’re mostly either overseas — “in places they don’t want to go back to” — or out of state.
“Young veterans coming home want jobs in New York City,” he said, “but they have a problem matching their skills with local employers. What you’re doing will empower them to put their skills out there while they have some privacy and get to do it at their own pace.”
The Chronicle wants not just our advertisers but all employers to take a serious look at the ads that will be appearing in the SitWant section. They’ll be coming from young men and women with a great work ethic, strong discipline and team-building skills. Many will have experience in areas such as mechanics and high technology. All will have a need to get back into the civilian workforce after a long period of time away from it. They’ll be young, strong and ready to take on the tasks they’re given from day one.
They fought for our country against some of the most ruthless enemies imaginable and endured horrors those of us who never served in the military can only guess at. We’re doing our small part to help them return to normalcy, and ask that you do too. Spread the word about the SitWant section, and help those who have helped all of us remain free and safe.