One of the first entries on Noel Winters’ resume is two years of service in the U.S. Army. It hasn’t helped his job search much, though.
One of the first entries on Noel Winters’ resume is two years of service in the U.S. Army.
It hasn’t helped his job search much, though.
“One of the things that has been noted is that veterans were supposed to be given some priority in hiring, but I don’t think a vet has any more chance than everyone else now,” said the 66-year-old Winters.
He’s been out of work since September, when he lost his job at Engman-Taylor Co. in Machesney Park, despite job fairs organized specifically for veterans, a veteran liaison at the unemployment office and companies that boast about their veteran hiring record.
But Winters’ challenge likely has more to do with the economic flameout.
“There’s no greater equalizer than unemployment,” Winters said. “Everyone goes to zero as far as how great they’ve been in the past. It doesn’t make any difference. Everyone’s got to start over.”
Still, military veterans typically have a better employment situation than those who didn’t serve, according to new data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In January, veterans had a 9.6 percent unemployment rate; nonveterans, 10.4 percent. The statistics now show unemployment rates by years of service, and all service groups had lower rates than the nonveteran population except for Gulf War II-era vets, who have a 12.6 percent jobless rate.
Steve Haight, president and chief executive officer of Careers Etc., an organization that works to help veterans find jobs, said military service is a bonus on a resume, but it also can act as a roadblock.
“One would think they’d have a leg up because of veteran experiences, and that (can) help,” he said. “What the problem is with veterans is, there just tends to be a disproportionate number of them that are homeless and that have additional issues. That’s what kind of makes them unique.”
Studies by the U.S. Office of Applied Sciences, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have shown higher rates of depression and substance abuse among veterans, all of which can be barriers to employment.
According to the 2003 studies, an estimated 3.5 percent of vets used marijuana in the past month, compared with 3 percent of nonveterans. Higher rates of heavy alcohol use (7.5 percent versus 6.5 percent for nonvets) and specialty treatment for a substance abuse disorder (0.8 percent versus 0.5 percent for nonvets) were also noted.
A 2008 study from the same department showed 9.3 percent of veterans aged 21 to 39 — many of whom served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — experienced at least one major depressive episode in the past year. More than half reported severe impairment from depression.
A variety of challenges
Peter Keith, the Winnebago County superintendent of veteran assistance, works with homeless and indigent veterans to provide basic services. He said his clients have a variety of challenges finding work.
“Each one of them is different. One may have skills issues, the other may have transportation issues,” he said. “You can’t really lump them together.”
Haight said a bill in the Statehouse may provide some help. House Bill 5424, sponsored by state Rep. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, would provide a free state ID to veterans in a jobs or employment skills training program.
Haight served as technical adviser on the bill.
Extra help available
Although additional financial help is available to veterans from state and federal governments, the basic level of job services from the Illinois Department of Employment Security is the same, said spokesman Greg Rivara.
The difference is, each IDES office has a veteran representative on staff to work with vets on employment.
“The inherent challenges vets have when they return stateside, regardless of when their service was, pose unique challenges,” he said. “It is often easier for veterans to communicate with and make a connection to another veteran. That individual is in a better position to understand the unique challenges that come with serving our country.”
The “vet reps,” as they’re called, also can help veterans break out of the military mindset of short, clipped answers to questions about job performance and qualifications, Rivara said.
“They’re encouraging them to not be afraid to elaborate, to sell yourself,” he said.
“They’re coming from an organization that is teaching them to put group before self, and now they’re in a world where they have to sell themselves. We’re helping them recognize and explain that difference.”
‘It’s really a wash’
Donald Gregg, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1971 to 1974, has been laid off since June. Formerly the service manager at a car dealership, he’s been in the auto business since 1978.
Although he’s new to job hunting and just learning what services are available to him, he’s not convinced being a veteran 30 years ago gives him a leg up on his competition.
“In my own mind, I think it’s really a wash,” he said. “I appreciate the fact that vets do get different status in certain types of things, but because I’m a veteran and 57 years old, if someone just graduated from college, is 25 and majored in business or computers or something, in my mind they’ll get the first call. I don’t hold it against them, it’s just the way it is.”
Reach Sean F. Driscoll at 815-987-1346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.