Young veterans confront new enemy: unemployment

Rate is higher for recent veterans than overall population
Nov. 10, 2013 @ 08:22 AM

Jason Goss spent 10 years serving his country in the U.S. Air Force as an intelligence analyst with a high-level security clearance. He left military service in June, eager to join the civilian work force. The problem is, jobs are scarce.

He filed for unemployment benefits. He used to earn $32,000 a year as a senior airman and now draws $310 per week, which pays the cost of rent and groceries -- although he is staying with his mother in Granite Falls, but wants to earn his keep. He has sent out about 60 resumes to prospective employers. He had two nibbles from defense contractors, but those jobs fell by the wayside last month when the federal government shut down for 16 days. He has even applied to fast food restaurants but says he was told he is over-qualified. Goss, who lives with his parents in Granite Falls, is prepared to move if necessary.

The overall unemployment rate for veterans is 7.2 percent, slightly better than the national unemployment rate of 7.3 percent, but among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan era, like Goss, the unemployment rate is 10.1 percent. Goss is one of more than 100 veterans in Caldwell County out of work.

"The competition for jobs is very tough," said Stanley McCormick, employment consultant with the N.C. Department of Commerce's Workforce Solutions office in Lenoir, and himself a 21-year Marine veteran. "I'm very familiar with the hard times they are going through."

Goss said the Air Force prepared him for civilian life. He took classes through the Transition Assistance Program, which helps veterans re-integrate into the civilian population. He prefers to stick with what he knows, which is military intelligence. He holds an Associates in Science in intelligence gathering, but realizes he may have to fall back on the criminal justice degree he is pursuing.

"When you have 10 years experience and a degree to back it up, you kind of want to stay in that," Goss said. "I was in a highly marketable field, but the market has to be there."

While Goss has sought help from the staff at the Workforce Solutions office, many veterans seem not to be aware of the services the agency has to offer, said Richard Sena, assistant manager at Workforce Solutions in Lenoir, who also is a veteran, having served in the U.S. Army from 1975-79.

"We don't have a lot of veterans coming to the office," Sena said. "You'd like to see more coming to us. There are specialists here who are available for them if they come in."

McCormick agreed.

"We assist veterans with job searches, make employer visits on behalf of the veterans, and push employers to hire veterans," McCormick said. "We encourage veterans to apply for jobs they might not be experienced in, to broaden their opportunities. We encourage them to enroll in classes we have here to get more training. We'll even call employers to see why an interview may have gone badly."

Another resource is the Caldwell County Veterans Services office, which acts as a liaison for veterans and their dependents to the Veterans Administration, and completes all necessary forms to apply for beneifts, including disability claims and pension paperwork. And the U.S. Department of Labor has links to more resources for veterans online at http://jobcenter.usa.gov.

A bill introduced by U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., would extend a tax credit for businesses that hire veterans, which is due to expire at the end of this year. The tax credit amounts to $5,600 for a business hiring a long-term unemployed veteran, such as Goss, and $9,600 for hiring a long-term veteran with a service-connected disability.

"We have seen the veteran's unemployment situation iprove over the last few years, but the fact really remains that too many of our veterans are struggling to find work today," Hagan said during a recent teleconference.

McCormick said veterans add value to an employer.

"Veterans have proven they can stay employed," he said. "They show stability and knowledge, and a team ethic."

Despite such testimonials, the tax credits and the help available, Goss, like others, still is looking.

"It's getting frustrating," he said. "I thought by now I'd be employed."