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Student veterans struggle to find employment

Tribe closer tries to ‘save’ struggling attendance, mixed emotions ensue

By Eric Maudsley

June 14, 2012

Unemployment for recent veterans is more than 1.5 times the level of the general public in Ohio, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that more than 46,000 veterans in Ohio are unemployed.

Student veterans at Cleveland State University, many of them unemployed or underemployed, recently expressed a sense of resignation at their inability to find work in their traditional occupations, and some frustration at how little their service experience helped them to find work when discharged. All said they felt that additional education was needed before trying to re-enter the workforce.

Years of training as a U.S. Navy hospital corpsman and experience as a field medic with the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan did nothing to help William Welsh, 31, find a job in health care after his discharge.

“I’m not even looking,” Welsh, a freshman nursing student, said. “The civilian equivalent of a corpsman is a medical assistant, and I was able to do so much more as a corpsman. I was able to start IV’s, venapuncture, more advanced procedures.”

Patrick Dukovak, a freshman mechanical engineering student, had planned to work for a private military contractor when he left the Army, but was wounded in combat. Dukovac spent almost six years on active duty, including more than a year in Iraq as an infantryman.

“There is not a lot of call in Ohio for infantry work,” Dukovac said.
Working as a bodyguard in Iraq would have allowed him to make enough money to buy a house and be debt free when he started school, but his injuries ended those plans.

Instead, he spent the time between his discharge in July 2011 and entering school in January recovering from surgery.
Like most of the other veterans interviewed for this story, Dukovac said

“I’m waiting to finish school before looking for a job.”
Gary Gallagher, a junior studying social work, has not worked since he injured his back in September 2006.

“I used to work in construction trucking,” Gallagher, 55, said. “I have to retrain for a desk job due to my injuries.”
Gallagher plans to continue with a master’s in social work before looking for a job. He served for 10 years in the U.S. Navy as a deck hand, a field with few opportunities in Cleveland.

“I’m not looking for work,” Gery Knox, 52, said. “I’m a photographer, and there are no jobs in the area in my field.”
The Navy veteran has an associate’s degree in photography, and is pursuing a bachelor’s of fine arts.

“I am planning on going to work for a nonprofit once I get my degree,” Knox said.
Chad Welker served in the United States Marine Corps for only 10 months when a shoulder injury completely changed the path of his life. Welker had enlisted soon after graduating from high school.

“I had zero job experience when I got out,” said the senior criminology major. “I was a three-sport athlete in high school so I didn’t have time to have a job. Every job I applied for wanted previous experience and I had none. I couldn’t even get a minimum-wage job at Best Buy.”

Welker eventually took a less-than-minimum wage on a farm near where he grew up in Wooster, Ohio. “It was a typical dairy farm job--milking cows, cleaning stalls, maintaining fences,” he said.

Welker stayed with that while he worked on an AA in adventure sports management. That led to a job as a ropes course facilitator that paid $17,000 a year with no benefits.
Teaching rappelling and climbing was the only skill Welker picked up in the service that he could translate into a civilian job. Although he has an application in at a Cleveland-area climbing gym, Welker has no illusions about the probability of getting a job there while he goes to school.

“My certification as a ropes course facilitator expired, and it costs $600 to $700 to get it renewed,” Welker said. “In this economy, most places want you to
pick up the tab for your own certification.”

Welker now hopes to work with troubled youth. “Through my major I found
that the root causes of crime are usually found in how a person grows up,”
Welker said. “I am going to work towards an MA in school counseling.”
Senior political science major Jeremy Albert has had a tough time juggling
college and his military commitment in the Ohio National Guard with working
part time.

“I know being deployed and the probability of getting deployed again,
makes it harder to find a job.” said Albert. A member of the national guard since
2006, the military policeman has been deployed to Germany and Panama, and is
looking at another deployment in the near future.

“I’ve tried to find a full-time job at all of the big companies,” said Albert.
“PNC, Verizon, Progressive. I even tried part-time jobs like McDonald’s. I
eventually just gave up looking to focus on school.”

Colin Closs, a senior studying criminology, knows that he was luckier than
most other veterans when he left the Army. Originally from Toledo, Closs joined
the Army in 2004, and served tours in Kosovo and Iraq. He was able to find a job
through his extended family at a coffee distributor, but he estimates that he took
a 33 percent cut in pay.

“I’m lucky that I have a very, very supportive wife,” he said. “It was hard,
but I had earned the G.I. Bill and wanted to use it.” The post 9/11 G.I. Bill pays
tuition and a small living allowance to eligible veterans, but it is “not enough for a
family to live on,” Closs said.

His first plan was to become a firefighter or emergency medical technician,
but what he found illustrates another challenge many veterans face when they
return to civilian life. Many occupations are no longer available to them because
of their experiences in war, and they require retraining to work in the civilian
world.

“I did some career exploration and realized that I just didn’t want to smell
burning bodies anymore,” Closs said. “I saw enough of that in Iraq.”
Closs decided on a career in criminology, focusing on becoming a parole
or probation officer. Even working 30 plus hours per week, he has managed to
finish his degree in four years. “I decided to go the Cleveland State because it is
a very vet-friendly school,” Closs said.

CSU is one of only eight universities nationwide with a U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs “VetSuccess on Campus” counselor. Co-located and working
with the Veteran Student Success Program in Rhodes West room 210, VA
Counselor Dennis Ward can deal with all benefits questions and issues right on
campus.

That kind of accessible support can make the difference for student
veterans, who are often older than traditional students with additional
responsibilities such as families and homes, and often have a difficult time
translating their military skills and experience into civilian occupations.

The high level of unemployment is a concern for Bob Shields, head of the
CSU Veteran Student Success Program. “We have 600 student veterans here at
CSU,“ he said. “I have meetings with the human resources departments of
companies to explain our needs. I tell them we need internships and co-op jobs
for these guys while they are in school.”

Shields added that he has attended a number of job fairs for veterans,
and most of what was being offered were low-paying, hourly-wage type jobs, not
careers.