Patty in the News

MONROE - For months, Joe Legett seemed unable to catch a break. He would send out resume after resume, but in the past six months he only had two interviews.

It may be because he is a member of the National Guard and may need to leave his job to serve overseas, something some employers are not willing to accept.

Legett, who has a wife and a young child, had to resort to omitting his Guard duty from his resume, he said last week. Legett is one of the thousands of servicemen and women coming home who either are discriminated against in job hunts or find they lost their job while spending months serving overseas.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray listened to Legett and others during a roundtable discussion on the problems facing veterans trying to find civilian jobs last week at Monroe’s Damar Aerosystems.

This week the Democrat plans to introduce legislation that creates a program to teach veterans business skills to start their own businesses.  She also wants to increase skills training and apprenticeships for veterans. “I want to make sure veterans who want to open up a small business can do that,” Murray said.

Murray is a senior member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

Veterans are the largest group of unemployed Americans. In 2009, more than 20 percent of male veterans 18 to 24 were unemployed, compared to a nonveteran rate of 19 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That does not include the numerous service members who are underemployed and take jobs below their skill levels, said Comcast human resources vice president Mike Cindric.

Overall, 10 percent of veterans from the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed.  That rate makes groups who work with veterans nervous. “We don’t want Vietnam happening again,” said National Guard employment training coach Morgan Zantua.  Groups like Hire America’s Heroes, based in the Pacific Northwest, are trying to rectify that. The group tries to translate “military lingo” into civilian terms to show veterans’ true skills, board president Marjorie James said. Unlike their counterparts in college, who often get to focus on their job hunt throughout senior year, veterans often leave the military with skills that do not automatically translate on a resume. They are given limited help in getting jobs, James said.

Murray said the military’s job preparation programs need revamping. “Companies do not see how military skills translate to the workplace,” Cindric said. Likewise, veterans do not know how to present their skills on resumes in the corporate world.

While a U.S. Army E4 sergeant may have had service members under his or her command, the fact a military member has managerial experience gets lost in translation on resumes. National Guard members are given even less time — a total of two weeks. Even members who have jobs may find themselves eliminated for taking time off to serve their country. 

“I believe because of my deployment, I was let go,” National Guard member Grace Campbell said. Campbell added: “I was told in no uncertain terms it would jeopardize my job if I deployed again.” She went to Iraq and lost her job after 10 years with the company. Her efforts to get a new job are hindered by her lack of a bachelor’s degree, she said.

Veteran and CEO Bill Morton said for people without military service, it’s hard for human resources people to be emphatic when National Guard members need to leave their jobs and serve.

Damar is the largest company in the nation run by a service-disabled veteran, according to the company. CEO Thom Kroon served in Vietnam and received a purple heart.  Ten percent of Damar’s employees are veterans. While veteran-owned businesses are required to have veterans make up 3 percent of its workforce if they receive federal contract work, companies rarely abide by the requirement. Vice president Jerry Kroon said it is easier for veterans to find jobs at companies run by veterans.  “We have invested so much in training you that to not use it is crazy; a real waste,” Murray said in the Tacoma Weekly late last month speaking at a roundtable discussion in Tacoma.

- Snohomish County Tribune