Thursday, October 18, 2007

Labor's Veterans Program Probed

Associated Press Writer

ABOARD THE NEW JERSEY (AP) - For 10 months, Iraq war veteran Andrew Schumann has been looking for a job. So far, no luck.

"Transitioning from the military has been a little bit difficult as far as trying to seek employment," said Schumann, 25, of Glassboro, N.J. "You get out of the military and you're kind of lost."

The Labor Department is trying to help veterans like Schumann, but some lawmakers in Congress are questioning whether federal money dedicated to finding vets employment is being spent wisely and fairly.

The House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity is checking out a veterans outreach program at the department. The program, with a budget of $161 million, sends federal money to the states to hire local veteran employment specialists.

Veterans' groups, such as the American Legion, have complained that the outreach is substandard in some states, leaving downtrodden and homeless vets without the help they need.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D, says lawmakers want to ensure that decorated veterans with polished resumes aren't the only ones getting help.

"You have to look at the entire veteran community and those that face different barriers," Herseth Sandlin said in an Associated Press interview. She plans a hearing on the program next week.

The assistant secretary for veterans' employment and training at the Labor Department, Charles Ciccolella, defended the program.

"You will never find a more dedicated group of veterans out there working to help veterans get jobs," he said. "They're always focused and always very, very dedicated."

The department runs a separate Web campaign called HireVetsFirst that aims to raise employer awareness about the value of hiring veterans. As part of the project, the department will announce on Thursday a major expansion of its job fairs for veterans, with more than 100 fairs in all 50 states starting this week and running through the week of Veterans Day.

The HireVetsFirst campaign also has helped with the marketing for dozens of career fairs run by private recruiting firms, such as the job fair Andrew Schumann attended last week in Camden, N.J., aboard the New Jersey, a decommissioned battleship. He and hundreds of other veterans distributed resumes to more than 50 employers from companies big and small _ from BAE Systems and Lowe's to local police departments and schools.

A recruiter for Florida-based CSX Corporation said veterans make excellent job candidates.

"They've had leadership training. They've worked in teams," said recruiting manager Mark Miner. "They're disciplined, hardworking individuals who have a lot more experience for their age than their civilian counterparts."

Still, it's been a struggle for Schumann, the father of a 1-year old who is living with relatives and whose wife has taken on a full-time job to help pay the bills. He's looking for a job as a videographer. While he didn't walk away with an offer, he remains encouraged.

"Coming here today, you see a lot of employers eager to hire veterans," he said.

Labor department officials say they don't track the number of vets who secure employment through career fairs. They estimate that about 10 percent to 15 percent of veterans receive job offers.

The Pentagon says over 300,000 military members returned to civilian status last year. Finding jobs in the civilian world isn't a considerable challenge for many vets _ the unemployment rate for all veterans last year was a low 3.8 percent.

But younger veterans face obstacles. The unemployment rate was 10.4 percent last year for veterans aged 20-24. Since the 90s, the unemployment rate has been somewhat higher for younger vets than for their civilian counterparts.

"When they come off of a period of active duty service, it takes them time to find a job," said David Loughran, a senior economist at Rand Corporation. "For some veterans, the skills that they learned in the military are not necessarily immediately transferable to a civilian job."

Marine Sgt. Garth Troescher, 25, who spent six months in Iraq, drove more than two hours with his fiancee to the career fair on the New Jersey _ and it may have paid off.

"This is great," said Troescher of Dagsboro, Del. "Here I am and people are offering me jobs. It's kind of nice."

He said he received two job offers and may relocate to Dallas for work.

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