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By Ashley Luthern
When troops return home, a still-sputtering economy and stigma attached to service are only a few of the challenges facing them during a job search.
“When I got out, the general population was very confused about what skills veterans had,” said Boardman Patrolman Paul Poulos, 31, who served two war tours in Iraq from 2004 to 2007 as an Army staff sergeant.
He said people still seemed to have a mental picture of troops “running from trench to trench with bayonets.”
“In infantry, you do dispatch radio, communicate with aircraft and thermal imaging. You’re the jack-of-all-trades,” he said.
Those skills are valuable and should make veterans more desirable employees, but the unemployment rate for veterans age 18 to 24 is 22 percent, said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
“Literally, more than one in five young vets can’t find a job,” said Brown, who along with 22 other senators introduced the “Hiring Heroes Act.”
The measure was approved 95-0 in the Senate on Thursday, less than 24 hours before the nation celebrates Veterans Day. The law would establish mentor programs, increased job-training opportunities and incentives — up to thousands of dollars — to companies that hire veterans. The House is expected to vote on it next week.
“We know that veterans have developed so many skills that’s why ... they are ideally placed to be able to contribute to the economy and our nation,” Brown said. “It’s a veterans bill; it’s a job bill.”
Nathan Davis, director of Xavier University’s Veterans Affairs Office, said he encountered a few barriers during his job search when he returned from serving in Iraq.
“... I’ve witnessed the stigma that is attached to [post-traumatic stress disorder] and people think you’re crazy,” Davis said. “But PTSD could be a number of things, like hyper-sensitivity. ... It gives employers a bad perception.”
Davis said he wholeheartedly supports the legislation.
Another barrier for veterans can be unfamiliarity with how to do a job search, said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
“Often we find that it’s less about an employer not wanting to hire a veteran, but really it’s the fact if you’ve been in the military for your entire professional life, you’ve never had to do civilian job search,” he said.
“You may not know how to describe your skills, you may not know just simple do’s and don’ts like sending a follow-up letter,” he continued.
Every One-Stop employment center — and there’s at least one One-Stop in each of Ohio’s counties — has a veteran service staff member, Johnson said.
Poulos, a graduate of West Branch High School, said he always knew he wanted to serve in the military and then go into law enforcement. The Mahoning County One Stop eased his transition by helping him find funding for law-enforcement training, he added.
Poulos said he was lucky to be able to take the civil-service exam while home on leave. He was sworn in as a Boardman police officer in May 2009 and said skills he learned in the Army translate well to his job now.
“The communication skills are No. 1,” he said. “... I went from being a young soldier to having to make a team out of guys from all over the country, sometimes the world. You have no choice but to work together.”
Boardman has about a dozen veterans on the force, including two who were sworn in this year. One of them is Patrolman David Sheely.
Sheely, 23, of Newton Falls, served in the Army National Guard in military police and left for a yearlong deployment in 2007.
“Being in the military, you’re put in a lot of different situations, stressful situations, and you learn how to handle it,” he said.
Sheely said the “whole experience” in military law enforcement applies to his work in Boardman and that he has “a passion for serving and helping people.”
Veterans looking for a job can get assistance at their local One-Stop or online at http://my.ohiomeansjobs.monster.com/VetCenter/Home.aspx.