The Big Story Blog

Vets, families talk of coming home, searching for work

Posted at 3:48 PM on November 11, 2011 by Paul Tosto

John Yaeger left the military in September 2009. But after going five months without finding work, he tapped the safety net earned through his service and it paid dividends.

I started school and stopped looking for work because of the housing stipend supplied by the (Defense Department). I finished my degree (and) was referred to a security position at Target Corp. by a friend on the local rugby club, also a veteran (Royal Marines) and accepted the position in July of 2011.
The GI BIll, reborn after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, "is an absolutely tremendous service available to veterans who have served after 9/11. It lacks a little bit of flexibility but it's overall level of service is amazing."

Yaeger, a Minnesotan in the MPR News Public Insight Network, shared his experiences today when we reached out to veterans asking about the needs of returning troops. What government benefits were they able to tap? What were the challenges of finding work and going back to school after the military?

Michael Tierney of Deephaven told us he was drafted in 1967 and discharged in 1969.

When I was discharged I went to the VA and met with an agent from the Disabled American Veterans. He was great. He helped me understand the options for disability ratings and he expedited the process. I am rated at 30% which qualified me for a program called Vocational Rehabilitation.

This program paid 100% of any tuition and books required to achieve my academic objective. I also used the GI Bill VA loan to buy my first home while I was still in college. The educational program and the home loan program have both been great, easy to access and terrific bargains.

I knew I wasn't qualified to do much of anything when I was discharged. My Army MOS (military occupational specialty) was Infantry. I had been a college flunk out and a cook for Great Northern railroad prior to getting drafted.

When I returned to apply again at U of M, Mpls. they said maybe college wasn't right for me.They based that on my cumulative GPA of about 1.1 for my first and only year in college. I told the interviewer that I would be one of 45,000 students on campus and my failing again wouldn't ruin the school. He let me back in on a probationary basis and I was on my way to my degree in business in three years. Then, several years later I attended St. Thomas and received my MBA.

What about the job situation now? Recent veterans, said Tierney, "need to realize that they are essentially unemployable."

If they don't have anything to offer an employer besides time in the military, good luck. The program that would help would be something like the Voc Rehab I received. It paid for all but my final semester of my MBA. The program paid my tuition and books as well as a stipend each month. I found a civil service job with Ramsey County that let me work full time nights while I attended school full time days.

No one owes a vet or anyone else a job. You earn that right. But the government does owe returning military an opportunity to catch up and that is achieved through education, not some welfare program.

Karen Francis told us her husband was a Minnesota Guardsman "during the long 22 month deployment to Iraq" and is currently active duty Army deployed in Afghanistan. Her son, also a Minnesota Guardsman, went to Iraq with 1st Armored Division and is now a veteran going to school on the GI Bill.

Her son, she said, had a hard time finding work "but was able to find something when he left the service and has held it while going to school full time. He is currently looking for a new job more in keeping with his recent degree - that's NOT easy!"

Francis finished with a couple of excellent points.

The benefits and services that exist must be explained to the service member, the VA must be able to help those who need it.

Our returning veterans must be assisted with licensure.After all a medic who has be trained and deployed, saving lives in difficult conditions, should be able to get a job as an EMT with advanced standing in classes!

About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.