Returning veterans hit hard by recession

Job fair held to help them find employment
March 8, 2009 5:13:05 PM PDT
Many U.S. troops coming home to America's troubled economy have fallen on hard times. Some veterans find themselves looking for jobs to fight off foreclosure and other financial problems. Sunday, a group of Chicago area community, business and government agencies came together to help them.

Fifteen months ago, Brian Jacobson put his fast food job on hold and headed to Iraq for an Army tour of duty, only to return home and become one of the thousands of jobless veterans.

"Now that I'm out, I find it hard because I don't have a set plan day-to-day," Jacobson

That's the reason why hundreds of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families attended the second annual Welcome Home celebration. That employment and information fair is the brainchild of Chicago area Veterans Affairs officials and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

"As a returning Iraqi veteran, there was nothing here on campus. It's an opportunity," said Robert Malnik of the UIC Veterans Student Association.

"It's harder for them now. When they return home, there are not as many people hiring," Jesse brown VA Medical Center's Valerie Creedon said.

Fewer businesses looking to hire veterans showed up at the fair this year, but those that did hoped to fill their ranks with former soldiers.

"We're offering an exam in the fall. So, we're looking for people interested to come on the police department," said officer Dawn Bowe-Coltri of the Chicago Police Department.

Dozens of community and government agencies were also on hand, not only to help veterans get work, but also assist employers understand the special needs of men and women who have served in the military.

"When they're working in the workforce, they can identify those issues and assist them so that they can keep their jobs," said Aline Williams of Easter Seals Disability Services.

That is a difficult task in an economy that has pushed the country's unemployment to its highest in years.

"There's cases where people are laid off even while they're in Afghanistan. We want employers to help put them into new employment," Director of Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Dan Grant.

Army Specialist Efran Martinez has not had that experience. The Purple Heart recipient has been looking for a job for months.

"What some employers don't understand is the struggle veterans deal with, as far as not being able to sleep and a lot of different things. They feel it will hurt their workforce," Martinez said.

One of the vendors at Sunay's job fair offered another option for vets: starting their own businesses. However, that is still tough, considering the economy.

Organizers of the job fair say the situation will only get worse as more troops return home from the war zone.