Hard homecoming: Veterans need more help in finding civilian jobs
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Those who serve in the U.S. Armed Forces have the thanks of a grateful nation for their sacrifice. But when their duty is done and they return to civilian life, they find themselves in the ranks of ordinary job-seekers, an indifferent place where their skills often don't transfer and their glory no longer inspires.
That is wrong.
Veterans should not be suddenly forgotten, nor should they be penalized for the very service that took them away. The nation's debt to them doesn't stop when they step out of uniform.
Yet Post-Gazette reporters Mackenzie Carpenter and Molly Born found that many veterans have a hard time adjusting to life after the military and that their service is far from a guarantee of civilian employment; shamefully, sometimes it's even an impediment.
Their two-part series -- which ran Sunday and Monday and was titled "Coming Home Pa." -- was part of a project spearheaded by PublicSource, a local nonprofit investigative news group that had other local media partners besides the Post-Gazette.
This was a good moment to focus on returning military personnel. U.S. participation in the Iraq war is phasing out and a withdrawal from Afghanistan is only a matter of time.
Moreover, staggering national deficits have moved Congress to put the Pentagon on a spending diet. In a normal year, an average of 250,000 servicemen and -women leave the military, but that figure could increase to 350,000 over the next five years. Not all will seek to go into the civilian work force, but a million are expected to seek work in an economy already struggling.
The veterans are coming home, ready or not -- and often it is a case of "or not," the Post-Gazette reporters found. Many programs do exist, and the newspaper series listed many of them, but a lot of problems exist, too, and these work to keep veterans out of jobs. As one example, the Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, seems to help some veterans, but leaves others frustrated, a reality that has moved federal officials to redesign the program.
Some of the problems simply beggar belief -- a military medic can treat wounds on the battlefield but has to be requalified to serve as a civilian EMT, a soldier who drives trucks and heavy equipment in the service finds that he or she needs a civilian license to get behind the wheel for Marcellus Shale drilling companies. State governments should work with the federal government to remove these bureaucratic obstacles.
Most shocking of all, some reservists and National Guard members have been advised not to mention their service on resumes because some employers are apt to discriminate against them, fearing their continuing service might take these employees off the job. Talk about sunshine patriots who stand for the national anthem at the ballpark but don't rally to the flag's defenders in the workplace. If existing laws can't put an end to such discrimination, they should be tightened.
This much is clear: The nation can do a much better job for its returning veterans -- and now it is the civilian world's duty to salute and get on with the job.
First Published April 23, 2012 12:00 am