As a veteran of the U.S. Air Force from 2002 through 2008 and an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, as well as an active member of the VFW Queens County Council advocating on veterans’ issues, I must say thank you to the staff of The Chronicle for bringing up the issue of the unemployment rate among our veterans returning home and the creation of the SitWant page (“Chronicle seeking to match vets with work” and “Veterans: Let us help you find work,” Editorial, June 21).
I would also like to thank state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. and Assemblyman Mike Miller and their respective staffs for putting together the recent job fair held at Atlas Park, as this fair was by far the best I have attended but the issues go well beyond the unemployment issue.
There is the misconception that all of our warriors run around in flak vests with M-4s chasing after insurgents. In fact the military is a self-sustaining environment which employs our young men and women in all types of occupations from someone trained as an electrician to an IT technician. So when our veterans come back home and our local and federal agencies point us in the direction of security firms paying minimum wage, it can feel like an attack on our pride. Also take into account that many of our warriors have families to support and minimum wage will simply not cut it.
Another issue, as most civilians may not realize, is that the Department of Defense has a program called the transition assistance program. This program is not mandatory prior to separation but is crucial to bridging the gap between the military and civilian sectors, especially when it comes to the wording on our resumes. There have even been similar programs set up by local government and private nonprofit organizations on the civilian side, but they are still deemed to be ineffective. As an example I had searched for some time post discharge and recently resumed my search, but have come up with a question of to what degree my experience, as well as that of other vets who have served under the most extreme of environments, still does not stand up to a newly graduated college student with no life experience.
In closing, with the enactment of the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, most veterans are choosing college over the strenuous job search. With this new GI Bill, a veteran’s tuition is provided, as well as a generous stipend to cover our housing expenses, so no wonder most vets are no-shows at job fairs across the city and nation. We’d rather take something guaranteed to help support our families, instead of wasting our time searching for jobs given to the 99 percent who did not sign that blank check to Uncle Sam payable in the amount up to our lives.