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Veterans Hit Hard By Recession

Veterans Hit Hard By Recession
Unemployment is twice as high for veterans compared to the average Californian. The state's unemployment rate is 12.4 percent, but young vets have it worse with one out of four out of work. Many have turned to business, and others are trying to figure out their options. We talk about the reasons why vets struggle to find work, and the programs out there that can help them find jobs or start businesses.

Unemployment is twice as high for veterans compared to the average Californian. The state's unemployment rate is 12.4 percent, but young vets have it worse with one out of four out of work. Many have turned to business, and others are trying to figure out their options. We talk about the reasons why vets struggle to find work, and the programs out there that can help them find jobs or start businesses.


Josh Evans, former Marine Corps pilot and owner of Global Security Options


Michael Lew, Employment Coordinator with the California Department of Veterans Affairs

Ken Clark, Small Business Adviser at Southwestern College Small Business Development & International Trade Center

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Job training and experience are two of the big features the US military offers to recruits. But even hands on training and a good job skill hasn't helped all the vets entering this depressed job market, in fact, the unemployment rate for veterans in California is double the state's 12 percent average, and for disabled vets it is much, much higher. Some veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are seeking additional training and education. Some need help presenting themselves to employers and others are creating their own job opportunities by going into business for themselves. I'd like to welcome my guests, Michael Lou is regional event coordinator with the veterans administration here in San Diego, Michael good morning.

LEW: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Josh Evans is a former marine core pilot and owner of his company, global security options, Josh, good morning.


EVANS: Good morning.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Ken Clark is a small business advisor attached with the Southwestern College. Ken, thanks for being here.

CLARK: My pleasure.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, we invite our listeners to join the conversation. Are you recently out of the service and [check].

LEW: Well, the unemployment rate for veterans in California -- it varies because the -- certain veterans move constantly. But it's in the did you believe digits.

THE COURT: Uh-huh. Around 20?

LEW: A little bit less than. Maybe around 17.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, why is it higher than the average?

LEW: Well, are the maturity of the ones that are transitioning out are -- a younger age, in particular, the 18 to 24 range. And most of the ones that usually only serve one term. So they don't have the experience coming out. They haven't really decided what career, sometimes, they want to go into. So they face a couple of challenges. Also chaired to, like, a non-veteran who may have continued their education, may be gotten a job and gotten some experience. Or the fact that -- well, someone who has served is, you know, in a different environment. So the ability to network and reach out to other sources is not there until they return.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. What is the main way that the veterans administration helps soldiers, sailors, marines transition from military life to getting a job in the civilian sector?

LEW: Well, along with, in terms of employment, what -- in 2007, in November 2007, are the VA announced the creation of the Veterans Employment Coordination Service. It's known as VECS. And it was stood up in 2008, and basically, the service that I work for is created to provide hands on employment assistance, created to help placement assistance, even things like direct case management for writing resumes, helping with interviewing. They also do some training and development counseling. They also do skills and qualifications assessment. There's also programs for those who are -- who have been injured or wounded. The VA also has created under Congress under title 38 known under the CFR Chapter 31, which is the vocational rehabilitation and employment program. And those who are service connected can request to enter into this program. AND if they're eligible, they will receive assistance in job -- getting them job ready, if it requires vocational training or education. And I'm familiar with this because I was I chapter 31. And I received my bachelor's degree through this program.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So you went through this program yourself.

LEW: I did. I also worked for the office under the work study program, which is similar to an internship program. And I happened to work in that particular office. So that program works. It's -- they have employment counseling after they're done with their training or education. And they assist them to get employment.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. I want to let everyone know they can join this conversation by calling 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Do you know, is there any kind of statistic about how many veterans have been helped through this program?

LEW: I don't off hand have those numbers but quite a new.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. Now, Josh, I'm wondering have you gone through those programs when you -- when you left the service?

EVANS: Actually I did not attend any of the VA programs. I got out in 2005.


EVANS: And in 2005, at least in the Marine Corps, and I believe it's DOD wide, when you transition out, when you leave the service, you're required to attend what's called [check] and it basically let's you know the steps you need to take to transition out, how to get with the VA, and quiet your exit physical, to determine whether or not you have a service connected disability. And through that program, I learned about contracting opportunities both on the federal side and on the stateside to be a contractor. So there are some regulations out there, if you wanted to start your own business, if you had any inclination that there were some advantages for disabled veteran businesses to at least get their foot in the door.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And we're gonna talk about your decision to start your own business in just a moment. I want to going back to you for just a minute, Michael because didn't it used to be that veterans were given a preference by employers in hiring? Does that still exist?

LEW: Well, in the federal government, veteran preference still exists. There's actually -- the confusion sometimes lies in veteran preference in terms of what we talk about the 5 and 10 point being added to the point on an evaluation in a resume. But there's also special hiring authorities that can be used by federal departments and agencies to hire a veteran non-competitively. And that's one of the things that is being a focus of trying to get those special hiring authorities out there and let agencies know that they can use those.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I'm wondering what do you hear back from veterans after they go out on interviews and they have been in the job market for a while? What are the kinds of things that they really need help with?

LEW: I think the main thing -- well, just from the beginning it's normally just navigating through the hiring process. A lot of times they don't spend the time to understand what they're trying to accomplish in terms of going through the hiring process. Whether it be in the federal government's side or on the civilian side, that's, you know, sometimes you get men throwing out resumes and hoping it will stick somewhere rather than trying to understand how the hiring process will go. But the good thing is, in the federal government side, with the signing of the veteran employment initiative, the executive order by the president in November, that really changed a lot of things in the federal government. And one of the things that was created was the fed's hire vets, which now creates a one stop website that they can go to get assistance. But the main thing is, I would think, like VECS, now every federal department and agency is supposed to have a program that is similar to VECS in terms of where a veteran can go if they're, for instance, wanted to go to work for the department of homeland security. They should have, the department of home land security should have now, a program set in place where the veteran ask go and get assistance to get employment into that department.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My last question to you is, Michael, about this 19 to 20 percent unemployment rate for veterans here in California, does the VA view that a problem?

LEW: Any veteran who is un. Employed is a focus of the VA. One of the main focuses that we're concerned with can is homelesses. We believe that the focus of transition to employment is a critical element. So one of the things that we'll be rolling out soon in terms of for the VA, is we're looking at that, this program that will probably be coming out in the spring, it's known as -- gonna be reintegration, recruitment, and retention. One of the things too is we have to look at retention in terms of getting the veteran to the right job.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We are speaking about unemployment for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars here in San Diego. And in the larger picture, California and the nation. Taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Mike is on the line from San Marcos, good morning, Mike, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning, thanks for taking my call.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You're welcome.

NEW SPEAKER: My question, I guess accident is to the panel. I was in the Marine Corps for 13 years and I just was involuntarily medically discharged about two months ago and -- for injuries related to combat operations in Fallujah Iraq, but -- and I fought the process, I went to Washington, we had an appeals process, and I wanted to stay in the Marine Corps. They still found me unfit for duty and gave me discharge papers of so everything, all those programs you're talking about, I went through and checked into them, and the job placements that they gave me were -- didn't match what I was making before. The one that they matched me was, like, an office manager. It was at $2,500 a month. And that was before taxes. And that was a third of what we were making and that didn't include benefit, you know, and I have three kids and a wife. So it just seems like -- then I applied for law enforcement too, thinking may be that would be the route. But none of them wanted to touch me with the combat related injury, plus being -- the VA gave me a rating for anxiety based off something I felt in 2005 for psychological reasonings, which I didn't think I needed. But when law enforcement saw that, they wouldn't touch me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, Mike, I don't know that we can solve the problem for you, but let me get a response from the panel here. And thank you very much for calling. Josh Evans, you're a former Marine Corps pilot, what's your response to Mike?

EVANS: I've actually heard a couple stories like this, and I would certainly direct you towards -- towards the VA for not necessarily for job placement but for -- to get -- just to get the information you require in order to put together a resume to look at the skills you've got and place him to be able to put together, you know, to sell yourself in a way that gets you something more than an office manager job. Because that's obvious, I mean, if you're in 13 years, [check] marines in combat, and that's certainly a skill that is sometimes difficult to articulate in the civilian side. So leadership is often something that is give cult to put onto a resume, but the folks at the VA, you know, they deal with this all the time, they can help you put that in a format that will be understandable to the focuses that might hire you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Josh, you left the service and you also found you had a disability. Tell us about that.

EVANS: You know, it's funny because they -- when you -- oftentimes when you go in for your annual -- I had to have an annual physical [check], and oftentimes, you were -- you just wanted to make sure that you looked as healthy as possible because you wanted to make sure you got your up check, you can keep flying, and you can suck up most elements. And then in the VA physical, they say, this is your chance to actually say, okay, I hurt this, I broke that, and I did. And you get -- the VA, and Mike can probably talk to this a little bit more, but the way it was explained to me is that the VA docks they take a look at you and they say, okay, we need to assess you for the time you spent in the military, and if you got in any way hurt, we have to make sure that you're covered from now until you're 80. So much if something you hurt now is going to affect you when you're old, we have to make sure that we cover that because that is -- that's something that you incurred while you were in the service. And I didn't know that. And so they -- you know, they take a look at me, and looked at the things in my medical record that were accurate, and said, okay, this is what your rating is. And from that point -- and I've seen, you know, folks that have much higher ratings, and folks that have much lower ratings.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And your disability's your hearing; is that right?

EVANS: Primarily, yeah, I've got what's called tinnitus, my ears ring from time to time. It's really just a function of being around jet engines for a long time, and explosions and so on. So yeah, it's an issue, and it's a disability in the fact that if there's ambient noise, and I'm not wearing a head set like I am right now, it actually makes it a little tough to pick out people's voices.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: [check] a lot of veterans' choices too, to actually start their own businesses, I'll get Kim Clark into the conversation, and also Michael Lew will continue to talk with us, he's the [check] and we'll continue to take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and You're listening to These Days on KPBS on KPBS. And we're talking about unemployment among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the jobless rate for veterans in California is with 19 or 20 percent. And that is much higher than the states. And for disabled vet, it is considerably higher. My guests are Michael lieu, he's regional event coordinator with the VA, here in San Diego. Of Josh Evans former Marine Corps pilot, and now owner of globe security options. And Ken Clark, a [check] taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Ken Clark, tell us about the program that southwestern college has. You actually try to get, to try to show veterans who are opening their own businesses how to get federal contracts.

CLARK: Yes, southwestern college has three primary economic development programs, the small business development center, center for international trade development, and a San Diego contracting opportunities center, which is a Ptack, both the PTAC, and the SBDC are actively involved with issues related to veterans and entrepreneurship. The PTAC, the contracting opportunities center, is totally involved in procurement issues and certification issues and developing programs that are most -- their most recent one is a new federal contracting certification that they're putting together with the national association of contract managers. And there's an on line course, ten courses on line, and then a follow up here locally. And a ceremony to get a certificate.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. Are you rolling out, also, a program at southwestern geared specifically towards disabled veterans who are entrepreneurs?

CLARK: Correct. We're -- excuse me, the the PTAC and the offerings of this new certification program. We have received funding from AT&T recently to compliment that program by developing a multi-week training program for general business issues, management and finance and marketing. Which are some of the skills that the veterans need to be more acquainted with. They're generally very familiar with technologies, that they have been interfacing with in the military or their job duties and medical profession or whatever. And so we try to bring them those other skills that let them get those contracts and manage those contracts properly.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Josh, I mentioned that you're owner of global security options. Tell us a little bit about your business.

EVANS: Okay, global security options is a physical security firm. We provide everything from design to installation of CCTV camera systems, HD megapixel, video management systems, doors, access control, fences, censors, basically anything you need to provide a controlled access to an area. Over video surveillance for that area.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And did you know that you were gonna do this before you got out of the service? 123450.

EVANS: No idea.

CAVANAUGH: How did this develop for you?

EVANS: All I knew when I got home was, I wanted to be home as much as possible. I had missed quite a bit of time with my daughter growing up between -- well, after September 11th and [check] my min goal was just to be home, and I couldn't seem to find a job that I liked. I wasn't -- I had been flying for so many years that I couldn't imagine sitting behind a desk at someone else's office. So I decided that what I wanted to do was go into business for myself, I looked around, I found some technology I thought was very applicable to, at least, the people that I knew, and I just sort of started in Ernest. And there are lots of programs out there. I fumbled around for months and months and months, and even years, I tried -- I tried the Score folk, I'm a member -- I'm a client of the PTAC with Tim Warren and Gunderson Lee, and they're just fantastic.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's at southwestern.

EVANS: Yeah, well, that's at -- where I've always visited them is Point Loma Nazarene. Of that's where I always met.

CLARK: We have offices conveniently located for the community. Our PTAC is in mission valley here and Camino Del Rio south.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So the best thing to do would be to look at the website to try to find that out?

CLARK: Most certainly.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that website is?

CLARK: There's a couple you could look at, but, or [check].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I don't want to leave you hanging with the story here, so you went -- you were struggling and you tried to figure out how to put this business together. How are you doing?


EVANS: Actually, I think we finally got it figured out. Soive brought on a couple very experienced business and sales guys: I've got a couple partners in best of your memory best of your memory Alabama, they're working the eastern part of the country, I'm working the western part of the country. And just like Ken was mentioning, there is so much more to a business than just thinking you have a good idea. And I've seen quite a few veterans get out think because of what they saw in the military, hey, I've got this great idea for a product, if I make it, they'll just buy is it. They'll just show up. And my experience is that there's a whole lot more to it. You really need to research the market, you really need to research and study to find out who are the buyers, who exactly are the buyers, how do they buy? There are so many other parts of a business than just having a great idea, and that's the part, I think, that probably cost us a few years while I sort of stumbled around and figured it out. And there's one more program that I attended that is it absolutely fantastic, it's called entrepreneurial boot camp for veterans with disabilities, and it's a program that's run out of Syracuse university, [check] six different universities and it's Syracuse, I attended the one at UCLA at the ivy league school of business, and the people up there are just fantastic people [check] Texas A and M, [check] and you could actually go to our website, and there's a link on our website to the EVV programs at the bottom of every page because I'm trying to get the word out there better. Because it really is something that puts all those pieces together. You spend ten days at one of these great business schools with fantastic professors, and they say this is what sales is, this is what marketing is, this is how you do it. And at the end, you come up with basically a five-minute pitch, and you pitch it to those folks who are not only professors but a lot of them are VC, vents tour capital folks, and they will give you an honest assessment [check].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sounds like a great program.

EVANS: It is fantastic.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call if you'd like to join our conversation and Roberto is calling from Clairemont. Roberto, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much for taking my call. And my congratulations to those on your panel. I'm a Vietnam veteran, and when we came back, there was a high unemployment rate as well, and under Republican administration, defense secretary Milton laird instituted project transition for the last six months of your military service, you were allowed to go out to a company or a corporation of your choosing to say if they would give you employment. The military would pay for half, would give you your salary, and the company didn't have to pay you, but what we were hoping is that they would train you in whatever field they had available. That way when you were released from the military, you had a job. It seemed to work rather well, at least it worked for me back then. We had the same problem in the Korean war, and we had the same problem -- we're having the same problem now. And I just thought that that was a great idea. And I always wonder why it is that the government doesn't take the lessons learned and apply them to now because they were true and tried. Thank you very much.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Roberto, thank you for that comment. And I'm gonna bring that to you, Michael, is there any -- what he was describing is almost like a transition, a six-month transition program from the military into a civilian job. Anything like that that the VA is doing right now?

LEW: One of the things that was already mentioned by Josh is that now every veteran or every active duty who's transitioning now attends the tach class, the transition assistance program. [check] [check] and I think that program itself is gonna be revamped by the develop of labor. It's gonna be more tailored. I think one of the things we've learned is that everyone who's transitioning out is at a different place in their life. And at different levels of experience and education. So one of the things they're gonna be looking at is looking at where that particular transitioning active duty member is at in terms of needing assistance. Those that need more assistance will get more. And I think one of the great things that they're looking at is how to utilize the technology that we have. And so one of the things they can do is to make sure they follow up and continue. And one of the things they are looking at is capturing and starting this process much sooner. Way before they get out. So that by the way they get out, we know where they're at, if they need more education or experience or both. And I think there's a great class action going on, federal departments now, but the Department of Defense and the VA definitely are looking at how to make it a better, smoother transition.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call. Misty is on the line from San Diego. Good morning, misty, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Morning, thank you for taking my call.


NEW SPEAKER: I'm calling because and about two years ago, started my own business called pub cakes, and I was having issues with the financial upkeep to keep the business going, and I came across an organization called the disabled veterans assistance foundation.


NEW SPEAKER: Their website is BB[check] $10,000 Grant to get my business going.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You must have really sold them to pub cakes.

NEW SPEAKER: Well, it's a great product. And I'm very excited for it. But they actually called me yesterday, and named me more applicants. So I heard this story, and I was, like, oh, my gosh, I have to call and tell people, if you're [check] go to their website and apply.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And the website again is?

NEW SPEAKER: BZ, disabled veterans assistance [check].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Misty thank you so much for the call. We appreciate it.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ken, I'm wondering, do you think that veterans issue active duty military, should think more about what they're gonna be doing when they actually do leave the service?

CLARK: I think that anybody benefits from planning. And putting together a business plan or a strategic plan would certainly help you not make a few of the mistakes that you might and identify those resources a little earlier on, where you -- you can identify in that process those things that are missing in your package. And you want to find those things out early. There's nothing wrong not knowing something because there's plenty of people out there to fill the void. You can get that sales marketing professional tagged on. None of us can do it all.

THE COURT: Exactly. And I saw you really sort of nod there, Josh. You already told us that you didn't have any idea when you were gonna do when you separated from the service. And now, I wonder when fellow -- former service members come and see that your business is successful, do they ask you for tips.

EVANS: They do, they do. And I do the same for the folks that I see that are more successful than we are. And the one thing about veterans is we're all -- when you meet a veteran, that's an instant connection, there's an instant friendship, and everyone feels very comfortable sharing everything they can with one another both up and down the line. So it's -- it is a tough nut to crack, initially. So I would tell the veterans out there that are thinking about it to reach out to other veterans, that there's an organization called the DEVB alliance, disabled veteran [check] the P tacks, the small business development centers, reach out because they actually are out there to help and they want to -- they want to help you. There's no -- there should be -- you should have no concern about going in and say, I have an idea, but I have absolutely now idea how to do it. And I think misty just called in and said they're giving out $10,000 grants to some folks with a decent business plan, and nobody -- and now they don't have enough applicants of that's the first I've heard of that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm wondering, Michael, you know, if somebody separates from the service and they're out looking for work, and it's gone into a few month, and they hear that unemployment rate is 20 percent, I'm wondering, is there a certain amount of frustration, resentment? You know, I went, and I served my country, I answered the call, and now I come home and nobody seems to want me?

LEW: Well, there are some that feel that they didn't quite get the assistance they needed because they weren't successful. And good points brought up here. One of the things I think we could do better is how to communicate better. I think with all these organizations out there assisting and -- what we need I think is I better collaboration, and I think for veterans to go to fewer resource points, to get resources or figure out where they are, because that's the biggest problem, and that's one thing that we could probably look at. So for those that are struggling, and oftentimes we hear that, they say, hey, where's my veterans' preference. Why isn't it being applied? But sometimes we have to remind them that just the current economic environment that we are in, it's tough for everyone to get a job now, there's a lot of people out looking for work, so the pool is much larger. And so it's one of those things where we have to make the veterans more competitive. And that's where VECS can help with that. And I encourage all veterans to contact VECS because even if it's -- if they're thinking about moving onto another part of the country, VECS is a national program. Of we have 13 regional coordinators now. We thought hired four more. We cover the whole country. So even if they start here in California and they're struggling and thinking of moving on to another part of the country. We'll help them. Once we get them set up, if they have the experience and the education. We will help them with a resume, and make them competitive.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank all of you, gentlemen. Thank you for coming in, I appreciate it. You gave us a lot of information. [check] and if you would like to comment, please go on-line, Days. Coming up, we check in on the progress of the healthcare reform law. Of that's as These Days continues here on KPBS.