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At War with Unemployment

New America Media/La Opinion, News Report, Isaas Alvarado, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Jun 05, 2009

Its not easy to find work.

When Ivan Villarreal, a 25-year-old Navy veteran, says this sentence, it seems to refer to veterans losing battle against unemployment.

Laid off from a Los Angeles tow truck company where he worked for nearly four year due to the current economic crisis, Villareal is putting into practice what he learned in the military: Never give up.

Employers arent returning phone calls, and when I call back they tell me not to bother them, said Villareal. He is one of the 170,000 veterans unemployed in February, according to national figures from the Department of Labor.

Veterans at a job fair in Los AngelesVeterans line at a job fair
in Glenora, in Eastern Los Angeles.

Tired of filling out electronic application forms, knocking on doors, looking for people he knows and collecting unemployment checks, Villarreal recalled the time when he left the military where he served for four years in September 2005, and no company would hire him.

The only reason I found work was that my cousin was working for a tow truck company and he referred me to them, said the Sun Valley resident, who last April left a life of more than seven years of independence to move back in with his parents.

The majority of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are young men who finished high school, enrolled in the armed forces and came back with no work experience, with military skills that dont easily translate to civilian life, or who have physical and psychological illnesses.

All of this is reflected in the national unemployment level: 11.2 percent of veterans over 18 were unemployed in February, higher than the 8.8 percent unemployment rate for non-veterans.

A lot of things you learn in the Army cant be used outside of it, explains Mario Alexander Carrazco, 25, a Navy veteran who lives in Glendora.

After completing five years of service in August 2006, Carrazco looked for work for two years before finding a full-time job.

However, he still wasnt able to find a position as an airplane mechanic, the trade he learned in the Navy. He doesnt have certification.

The same thing happened to Miguel Snchez, who specialized as an electrician in the Navy for 20 years. When he left his journey at sea, he was faced with a harsh reality.

It was hard for me. When I got out they asked me if I had a work license, so I had to go to night school and work during the day, he said.

Then all of a sudden they told him he was too old to start a new career. I applied to the Border Patrol, but the age limit is 40 years old, and Im five years older than that.

California is home to 2 million veterans, the largest number in the country.

The state Employment Development Department indicates that 95 percent have completed high school, almost half of them have a college or graduate degree, and the vast majority are highly qualified in technical skills. But outside of the trenches of the Armed Forces, everything changes.

The case of members of the National Guard who left their jobs temporarily to fight is the clearest example of the casualties in the workplace.

There are a lot of soldiers who come back and find the job they had doesnt exist anymore; theyve closed the factory, the store, said Jos Coll, director of the Military Social Work program in San Diego, part of the University of Southern California (USC).

Another difficulty is that employers dont seem clear about the advantages of hiring former military personnel. A survey on Military.com, a job search service for veterans, indicates that 61 percent of managers have doubts about the veterans abilities and 64 percent believe they need further assistance in their transition into civilian life.

A lot of people think that those who went to Iraq have mental problems, that were crazy or something, said Gustavo Trujillo, a 25-year-old former Marine, who after leaving his job almost three years ago where he worked from 2002 to 2006 hasnt been able to find a permanent job.

From 2001 to 2008, more than 30,000 soldiers returned from combat with amputations, burns or psychological damage, according to official reports.

The situation of wounded veterans is a new situation for the U.S. government. This is the first war where weve had this many soldiers with serious injuries who have survived, said Coll. As a nation, we arent prepared for this.

Those who return with the marks of war arent always accepted by their managers, affirms Rubn Treviso, head of the organization G.I. Forum in East Los Angeles.

GI ForumRubn Treviso, heads the G.I. Forum
in East Los Angeles.

The companies think: How am I going to have this person in the position? Am I going to have problems with him? he said.

Treviso was impacted by the story of a young soldier who was easily identifiable because hed lost two fingers on his left hand and he had scars on his face after being in combat in the Middle East.

No one wanted to hire him. In the end, because he needed money, because he wanted to get married, he went back to the service and they sent him to Iraq again, to fight. He is still there, he said.

Trujillo, the former Marine, returned home with back pain that now accompanies him on his search for work.

I was carrying a lot of equipment and also jumping out of trucks with all of my equipment on, he recalls. Everyone who goes into the Marines or the Army knows what theyre getting into.

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