Young Veterans’ New Fight: Finding a Job


Young Veterans Need Employment
by Meredith Kolodner

Tom’s River, NEW JERSEY–Four years of active duty in the U.S. Navy gave Paul Johnson of Pine Beach a sense of pride and some skills, but that hasn’t translated into a job for the 24-year-old veteran.

Johnson, who was an electrician in the Navy until May 2006, was one of 230 people who attended a county job fair on Wednesday aimed at helping veterans land jobs. Census data from last year documented an 18.7 unemployment rate for veterans between the ages of 18 and 24. For nonveterans of the same age, the unemployment rate was 9.9 percent.

It’s not as easy as I thought it was going to be, said Johnson, 24, who was an electrician in the Navy from 2002 until May 2006. I’m looking in the construction trades, maybe security since I’m trained for it, but I’ll do pretty much anything.

Census figures show that older veterans are employed at about the same rate as their nonveteran counterparts. But young veterans returning from combat have a more difficult time finding jobs than people their age who didn’t join the military. Government officials and veterans support groups say that re-adjustment problems, translating military experience into civilian job needs and education gaps are possible explanations for the disparity.

Johnson said he has found that his four years in the military only translates into two years of work experience as an electrician by civilian standards…


I want to be able to support myself, said Johnson. I guess I thought that there would be more money coming out.

Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little, who serves as the liaison to veterans’ services, said more than 500 Ocean County residents have served in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past few years. He said that the job fair was held to make sure our returning veterans and their families are not left out in the cold.

But finding employers willing to hire veterans is only one step in a more complicated process, according to government officials.

Sometimes young men and women coming out of the military have not acquired the skills an employer may be looking for, according to Pat Leahy, the coordinator of Ocean County’s Workforce Investment Board, which helped to organize Wednesday’s job fair.

Some of the younger veterans have incomplete educations, said Leahy, and some have literacy issues. Gone are the days when you get out of high school and that’s enough of an education to get a job that will give you a self-sufficient wage.

Some of the skills learned in the military apply to the real world, said Jill S. Perez, director of human resources for Ocean County whose son and daughter both served in Iraq. But you still need the interpersonal skills, the job experience and the education.

Census data shows that returning veterans are more likely to land blue collar jobs and are less likely to work in offices and the service sector than the rest of the population.

The fact that most of the younger veterans are coming back from combat may also have an impact on how quickly they adjust, according to veterans affairs experts.

Some have more trauma than others, said Bill Dozier, assistant director for employment and homeless veterans programs at Veterans of Foreign Wars, whose local chapter co-sponsored the job fair. If you were a unit leader and you lost men, those things come back and haunt you. Taking a life is a big deal, especially if it’s up close. It has to affect you or you’re not human.

Even without severe trauma, adjusting to civilian life can take some time.

Peter Zappella, 23, from Ocean Gate was in the Marine Corps from 2002 until August of this year. He drove convoys from Kuwait into Iraq.

I am adjusting to being home bound, not working all the time, said Zappella. Here, everybody is your people, you’re not always wondering who’s going to attack you.

Zappella said he was looking for a job where he could use what he learned in the Marines, fixing weapons and providing security.

I was so hyped to get out, Zappella said, but no matter how much you hate it, you miss it. I think it will be OK. I just want to see what’s out there and be independent.

Allen Mench joined the Marine Corps in 2002 when he was 19 years old. He worked as a military mechanic and was stationed in Iraq last summer. As a sergeant, he was in charge of supervising other men while in a combat zone. Now he is looking to make the transition to a more normal job but says that it is difficult to understand the process unless you have been through it.

It will be difficult to adjust, said Mench, of Jackson. You can’t just yell at people. You can get fired. It’s very different, the intensity is very different.

For now, Mench says he is getting adjusted and still looking for a job.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hire Veterans has jobs available right now for Military Veterans. If you are a veteran seeking employment from top companies in the US that support you or if you are an employer seeking America’s best men or women to work for your company then please visit Hire Veterans TODAY.


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