For wounded US veterans, job prospects brighter
This generation of troops is getting unprecedented help.
For Sgt. Logan Jubeck, sunbaked Camp Williams has nowhere near the excitement of his forward observation base near Kirkuk, Iraq.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Here, at this National Guard base outside Salt Lake City, he's waiting for the Army to decide if he's medically fit to remain in the service. While he's waiting, he's getting briefed on job prospects in the civilian world.
At least four contractors want to interview the Idaho guardsman for jobs. Most are offering "top dollar." And at least two universities are likely to give Sergeant Jubeck, who was an engineering student before serving in Iraq, incentives to return to school.
"That's the scoop," says Rob Brazell of Return to Work Inc., a nonprofit organization that has started working with disabled veterans such as Jubeck.
Return to Work is part of an unprecedented effort to help wounded troops make the transition to the workplace.
Places such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center are holding job fairs. Specialists in the jobs market, such as Monster.com, are pitching in. Vietnam veterans, most of whom had no help like this, are trying to ensure that this generation of injured soldiers gets better treatment. And there is a dedicated group of people, such as Mr. Brazell, who are intent on helping other people.
"Whereas transition services in the 1970s were fairly limited, today we recognize that we have a lifetime commitment beyond [Veteran Affairs] healthcare and education benefits to broader assistance in job training and placement that contribute significantly to improved opportunities when veterans return to civilian life," says William Offutt, director of the HireVetsFirst campaign at the US Department of Labor. "This time, we're going to get this right."
As of last November, the survival rate for those injured in combat was 90 percent, the highest ever, reports Military.com. But 6 percent of wounded US troops have lost a limb, double the rate of past wars, according to the website, which quoted Maj. Gen. George Weightman, then commander of the Army Medical Department Center and School at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. (He is now commanding general of the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command and Walter Reed.)
For those who have been injured, it can mean a major change in career plans if the Army decides they can't continue in uniform. "Guys get wounded, and all of a sudden, they are faced with a loss: It's producing a lot of stress, change, and a lot of problems," says Walter Penk, a consultant in New Braunfels, Texas, who has long worked on veterans issues. "The wounded warrior faces a major readjustment, and it's important that employers be aware of their struggles."
Many of the injured are considering returning to school. Some want to figure out a way to continue working on a team with a defined mission. Many don't want to be tied to a desk job.
One of those is Lance Cpl. Chris Hahn, a husky marine from Loveland, Colo. He lost part of his leg in an accident in Iraq. But he's determined not to let that slow him down. He will be fitted with a prosthetic, he says, and will be able to run with anybody. His goal is to become a police officer. "After Iraq, I need excitement," he says.
Last month, Corporal Hahn attended a job fair with the catchy title, "Hiring Heroes," at Walter Reed in Washington. Organized by the Defense Applicant Assistance Office (DAAO), it gave injured vets the opportunity to meet some 30 government agencies and private companies.
"We have real jobs," says Karen Hannah, a human resources specialist with DAAO. "Some are temporary while the service members rehab, and others are permanent."
A double amputee, Staff Sgt. Joe Beimfohr is talking to the Department of Veterans Affairs. He's thinking about going back to college. But he can also see himself working for the VA, helping other injured service members. As he sits in the wheelchair, he looks down and asks, "Who could do the work better?"
Such a work ethic is appealing to many potential employers. "Companies are very enthusiastic about vets. They recognize the qualities of today's veterans – their flexibility, mission-orientation, teamwork, and their ability to overcome obstacles on the job," says Mr. Offutt.