Ohio veterans struggle to find work


By Wesley Lowery

The Columbus Dispatch

As the final troops deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom have come home, they have joined a steady stream of people returning from Afghanistan who also are seeking jobs.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services created a section on its website for veterans to post their r sum s and hunt for jobs, and various veterans- services agencies provide employment counseling.

But many Ohio veterans still struggle to find work as they enter a depressed job market, especially when much of their recent experience is in combat-related fields.

“I had a tough transition,” said Daniel Hutchinson, of Gahanna, who served a tour as a medic in Iraq.

Upon arriving back in Ohio in 2006, Hutchinson discovered that the construction jobs he once worked had disappeared because of the housing bust. After months of searching, he used his combat- disability money to start Ohio Combat Veterans, a group that helps military veterans find work.

A major struggle for many veterans is selling their military experiences to civilian employers, Hutchinson said.

“You don’t exactly need field artillery in Columbus,” he said, adding that the group has been able to find security jobs for many of the veterans it has worked with.

So far, Ohio Combat Veterans has placed about 100 former soldiers in new jobs, but plenty more still are searching.

“We have estimates that up to 40,000 Ohioans have served overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan,” said Mike McKinney, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Veterans Services.

One plus is that troops have been deployed in waves throughout the wars, which has staggered their return to the job market, McKinney said. “There isn’t one big wave of veterans coming back from Iraq. It’s a trickle of people returning rather than a large stream.”

Some who served overseas had jobs waiting for them, thanks to the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act, which requires employers to hold the jobs of National Guard members who are deployed.

There have been 20,845 Ohio National Guard deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, said Capt. Matt Molinski, public-affairs officer for the Guard.

The final Ohio National Guard members in Iraq made it back to Ohio in early October, he said. Troops in Afghanistan will trickle back between now and late 2013, including 19 soldiers who returned to Westerville on Friday.

But because many Guard members are students, they’re coming back to Ohio without a job to return to.

The National Guard has started a Yellow Ribbon program that trains veterans in job-seeking and offers counseling 30, 60 and 90 days after their return, said Molinski, who added that he encourages veterans to take advantage of the post-9/11 GI Bill, which pays for college and professional education.

Many Ohio veterans are finding work in the health-care and energy fields, said Tim Taylor, operations manager of the AmVets Career Center, a nonprofit organization that has offices in all Ohio counties.

Taylor said AmVets has built job-placement partnerships with various companies and is expecting an influx of combat veterans who re-enter the workforce after taking some time off to recover mentally.

The federal Veterans Affairs offices in Columbus also are working with AmVets and other agencies to get veterans hooked up with the right assistance programs.

“If you’re not really sure where to go, come to the VA, and we can direct you,” said Carl Higginbotham, spokesman for the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Medical Center in Columbus.

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