Patty in the News

Five months after Kalama native Joe Ledgett deployed to Iraq with his National Guard unit, his wife was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Ledgett returned home for a month to be with her, but said he soon returned to Iraq because he knew it was the only job he could find to support his family.

Ledgett, a technical writer with a bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, said that when he came back to the U.S. last year, there was still no job to be found. He said he "applied for every tech writing job available," but he couldn't find work and supported his family with unemployment checks. In six months of looking for work, he said he secured only two job interviews.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced a bill aimed at helping veterans like Ledgett find work. More than 21 percent of veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan can't find work, Murray said in a conference call with Ledgett and other veterans.

"How can these heroes, who have performed under such tremendous pressure ... be struggling so much when they come home?" Murray asked.

The Veterans Employment Act of 2010 would establish a Veterans Business Center program with the U.S. Small Business Administration to train veterans to start their own businesses. It would expand the Post-9/11 GI bill to pay for apprenticeship programs.

Doctors successfully removed Ledgett's wife's tumor. And he recently found a contract job with Microsoft. But Ledgett, who now lives in the Seattle area, said Murray's jobs bill could help veterans like him find work and train for new jobs faster.

Both Ledgett and Murray said veterans are sometimes hiding or downplaying the fact that they've recently served overseas because of, as Murray put it, "the stigma of the invisible wounds of war."

Ledgett, who was in charge of maintaining security cameras in Iraq and didn't experience combat, said work was especially important for veterans who are struggling emotionally with their experiences overseas.

"Getting them back to work is critical for their recovery," he said.

Veterans who spoke during Tuesday's teleconference said employers are leery of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Murray and Ledgett said veterans struggle in telling potential employers how their military training and leadership can help businesses. And employers, she said, underestimate veterans.

"What it boils down to is guys like me come back and they submit their resume. The top of the resume is going to list: ‘Was in Iraq' or ‘Was in National Guard.' When I got back if I could have taken some training, a short community college course or seminar — anything — I could have put that at the top of my resume as something more recent and relevant to my career," Ledgett said. "And that would have helped me stand out."

The bill, which is also sponsored by Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska, would also create pilot programs to help veterans gain technical skills and establish a Veterans Conservation Corps grant program and green energy jobs program for returning service members.

- Longview Daily News