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Unemployment Rate Twice As High for Young War Veterans

The jobs situation remains grim for workers of all ages. California’s unemployment rate still hovers at 12 per cent, compared with the national average of 9 per cent.

But for California veterans aged 18 to 24, that number is nearly 25 per cent.

Despite millions of dollars state and federal governments have spent on job training and in creating government positions for veterans, unemployment for this age group has actually soared from about 14 percent three years ago.

The state’s Employment Development Department, which tracks the numbers, reported that these veterans have had a much harder time finding jobs than their non-veteran peers.

To add to the worry, nearly 30,000 more veterans are expected to return to California in the coming year.

Michael Lew, regional employment coordinator at the Department of Veteran Affairs in San Diego, said he is among a network of trainers set up across California.

“We help them through every stage of the process, from resumes to doing mock interviews,” said Lew, a retired Navy petty officer with 21 years of service.. “We also follow up, to see how they did and review what can be improved, if they were not selected.”

Money is also available from the post-9/11 GI Bill to send veterans back to school and train them in new fields, as well as provide housing for some until they get back on their feet.

As for how effective these programs have been, Lew said government agencies including the VA have directly employed many more veterans because of this funding.

“The money is being well spent. For instance, the VA’s goal for increasing the veteran employee population has definitely made an impact,” he said. “Last fiscal year, the VA hired 11,000 veterans. They account for 35.6 per cent of employees in the VA offices in California, which is higher than our goal of 33 percent.”

There is also an employer initiative, through which half of the veteran's wages are reimbursed for the first six months, when a business employs a service-disabled veteran.

Despite these efforts, the unemployment rate has climbed relentlessly. Lew believes the root of the problem is lack of experience.

“One of the biggest difficulties is, of course, the age. When you talk about first-time military personnel, they are going in right out of high school,” Lew said. “While serving they don’t have time to gain experience -- like an infantryman who doesn’t have any skills other than what’s taught to them in the military. So even with the service we’re providing, it’s still a daunting task.”

Also, most veterans in their early 20s are looking for entry-level jobs, where there is a lot of competition. Lew said non-veterans have the advantage here, since they have had time to begin building a network to rely on whereas veterans have been out of the loop.

Bob Mulz retired from the Navy in 1990 as a master chief. He had the foresight to lay the groundwork for Plan B before he got out of the Navy. For that he credits his network of contacts. He went into business right away, setting up Video Electronics, his wholesale and retail business in City Heights.

Mulz is also chairman of the Elite Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Business Network, which guides veterans with service-related disabilities to business opportunities.

“Especially with service-disabled veterans, the attitude is that they are unable to do the work, when in fact disability does not mean inability,” Mulz said.

Lew echoes this view. “There are some challenges that some veterans face, especially the ones who are severely wounded and injured. There is some hesitation on parts to hire them.”

Lew said the VA is working on spreading awareness among employers that these veterans do have skills and that disabilities are not going to stop them from doing their job.

Mulz refers to a report that puts the unemployment rate for disabled veterans at 47 percent. “It boils down to a poor economy and also a stigma about the abilities of the young veterans when they come back, as to their physical and mental issues,” he said.

Mulz often receives calls from younger veterans saying they could not find a job and so they think they ought to go into business. His advice to them is to first decide on what they want to do, then get some training in that field before thinking of setting up shop.

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