Returning veterans seek jobsThe first of nearly 3,000 Minnesota National Guard servicemen and women returning from overseas have begun arriving in Minnesota.
By: Jana Hollingsworth and Steve Kucherafirstname.lastname@example.orgemail@example.com, Superior Telegram
The first of nearly 3,000 Minnesota National Guard servicemen and women returning from overseas have begun arriving in Minnesota.
Many of them will encounter the same challenges encountered by Henry Harkreader, who said he has struggled to find work since returning to Duluth from Afghanistan in 2010. The 34-year-old Army National Guard veteran and current Lake Superior College student said he feels that some prospective employers dismiss him when they learn he saw combat during his two tours overseas.
“We have that stigma: They’re worried we’re going to fly off the handle,” he said, as some people assume veterans have post-traumatic stress disorder. “It’s not easy for combat vets to come back.”
Harkreader was one of 75 military veterans who attended the Twin Ports Job Fair on Monday at Wessman Arena in Superior, in which the first hour was reserved for veterans and service members.
“One of the biggest issues is going to be employment, getting these young men and women decent-paying jobs,” said Steve Saari, regional director of Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. “Whatever our community can do to help hire these guys will help prevent problems down the road.”
Pam Hamman, a driver recruiter for Superior’s Halvor Lines, an over-the-road trucking company, was at Monday’s job fair. She said she actively looks for former military members to employ. Veterans are disciplined and have had drug screening, she said, and they manage time well and are dependable. The company has hired about a dozen veterans in the last six months.
“Over-the-road (driving) is tough for families,” Hamman said. “But military families are used to (husbands and wives) being gone.”
Timothy Anhalt spoke with 26 veterans during the job fair. The assistant training director for the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers said the training and work ethic of military members goes well with electrical training and work, and a large number of electrical apprentices in Wisconsin are veterans.
“But it may not work with a small-business owner,” he said, which can be why some veterans have a hard time finding jobs. “The problem some companies may have with hiring vets is their only experience is in combat.”
Harkreader, who spent eight years on active duty as both a mortarman and a truck driver, said help exists for veterans, but “we have to find it. You have to dig.”
“We need more employers willing to hire a vet and sticking to what they say,” he said. “If you say you are going to look at vets first, then do it. Put vets first. We’ve earned our right. I know so many jobless and homeless vets right now, it’s unreal.”
Training to go back home
In addition to the stress of looking for employment, returning veterans must negotiate the re-establishment of relationships, tapping into educational and medical benefits — and, sometimes, finding a place to live.
With the spike in returning service members, the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans expects an increase in demand for its services to veterans and their families who are homeless.
The agency is doing what it can to prepare.
“We have a new VA grant that just started this year that has really helped us with our outreach in northern Minnesota,” Saari said. “The timing of this grant is excellent for these guys returning.”
Meanwhile, the Minnesota National Guard is working to prevent the need for service members to seek crisis care.
“We are proud of their accomplishments,” Major Aaron Krenz, chief of deployment cycle support for the Minnesota National Guard, said of the returning Guard members. “We are committed to making sure that they get the support they need.”
The Guard begins working to prepare its members to find employment back home while they’re still overseas, with training in resume-writing, mock interviews and how to work a job fair. Minnesota Adjutant General Richard C. Nash sent an employment resource team to Kuwait in March to help.
A team of officials and service providers are currently meeting with returning Guard members for Initial Reintegration Training as they go through demobilization in Mississippi.
“They are helping identify the service members’ needs and connecting them with the resources in their communities when they go home,” Krenz said.
Among the service providers in Mississippi are representatives from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
Jodi Kiminski, MnSCU’s northeast regional coordinator for the veterans’ resource office, arrived in Mississippi last week to meet with returning Guard members.
“I think it is fantastic” that the Minnesota Guard sends teams to Mississippi, she said. “They are leading the nation in this sort of stuff. No one else is doing this. The service members appreciate it so much, and retain the information. They sit and listen to you. It is so worth it.”
In recent years MnSCU has improved service to veterans as well. Recent accomplishments include:
Establishing veterans centers on most campuses
Developing a better system for granting college credit for military education
Providing telephone and online support for educational counseling
In 2011, 10,644 veterans and service members were enrolled in one of the system’s 31 institutions, up 57 percent from 6,777 students in 2008.
After they return home, Guard members can attend 30-, 60- and 90-day reintegration meetings. The first two are family-focused. The first reviews the benefits they are entitled to and the resources available to help them re-establish their civilian lives.
The second session addresses topics such as substance abuse, stress and anger — “which is very normal,” Krenz said, “because you are going from a very simplistic, mission-orientated environment to a very gray, very fluid environment. It can become very overwhelming.”
The final meeting is for service members alone, and it is attended by representatives from federal, state and county Veterans Services Offices.
Minnesota was a pioneer in developing such a comprehensive program connecting service members and their families with community support, training, services and resources. Deciding that returning veterans should not have to go through what he did after Vietnam, then-Minnesota Adjutant General Larry Shellito helped the state develop Beyond the Yellow Ribbon in 2004-05.
“Prior to that, service members would return and it was four months out before we came back together,” Krenz said. “By then, marriages were in shambles, homes were in foreclosure, and some were going through bankruptcy. A high price was being paid for leaving servicemen and women alone.”