The Ottumwa Courier

December 14, 2012

Unemployment rate improves — but not for veterans

Post-9/11 vets at a rate of 10 percent

Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Figures released by the U.S. Labor Department present a good news/bad news situation.

The national unemployment rate dropped to 7.7 percent, down 0.2 percentage points from October.

But a report from Army Times points out that for October and November, post-9/11 veterans are locked into an unemployment rate of 10 percent.

Even when averaged for veterans of all generations, the rate worsened in November, from 6.3 percent in October to 6.6 percent in November. The state of Iowa does not track unemployment figures for veterans, nor do individual county offices. But the issue comes up.

“I have had a few in who are seeking employment, who for whatever reason were unemployed and were looking to re-enter the workforce,” said Diane Durian, director of Monroe County Veterans Affairs.

And a veteran she recommended attend a job fair specifically for veterans hasn’t heard back from anyone he met there, she said.

Like most county veteran offices, Durian doesn’t specialize in any one service for veterans, like employment.

“We try to point them in the right direction,” she said.

Since Monroe County no longer has a Workforce Development satellite office, that often means sending them to Ottumwa.

“We have the services to help everyone find employment, not just veterans,” said Linda Rouse, operations director at the Ottumwa office of IowaWorks.

But they also have a dedicated veterans officer.

U.S. Marine Corps veteran J.R. Beamer is the representative in Ottumwa. He said in a recent Courier interview there are several reasons employers may be hesitant to hire combatants of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If they understood the truth behind the challenges those veterans face, they might be more willing to hire them.

For example, he said, civilians with post-traumatic stress disorder may or may not be diagnosed.

Combat veterans, however, are all screened for the disorder. Not only that, he said, but the Department of Defense and the VA are the nation’s leaders in treating PTSD.

As for the chance of being sent overseas again, yes, they may need to serve. But with the amount of notice given to workers and their managers, planning can take place, Beamer said.

Principal Financial Group, Fareway and Hy-Vee all are strong supporters of the guard and reserves, he said, and they are successful.

“Or they may have a gap in their employment history,” Rouse said.

That’s because it is not unusual for a service member to leave the battlefield after a year or more in harm’s way, come home and decide to decompress for a few weeks as they transition into civilian and family life.

Rouse, herself a retired Marine, said one of the things that jumps out at her is that service members may not realize just how many valuable skills they are coming home with.

“They may not know how to market their skills, to put them into terms an employer can understand and show what they can do for the company.”

That’s something veterans can learn, she believes.

Beamer had said the military teaches members to push themselves even when uncomfortable, as well as to learn how to learn quickly, under pressure and in changing situations.  

Rouse listed leadership skills, intensive safety training and conditioning, experience continuing to work a job even under intense pressure and working as a team. Military members become comfortable working with state-of-the-art, high-tech equipment, too, she said.

Rouse said a program practiced in southeast Iowa and statewide should provide some education about those issues.

“‘Hire our Heroes’ is a program to send the message to employers about the barriers veterans face but also all the great assets they bring to the table.”

According to the Army Times report, the Defense Department is working on an initiative to improve transition assistance training for separating service members, a move “aimed at helping them find better jobs and using their military-learned skills.”