Ron Graham has invested his life serving his country as an Army sergeant in Iraq. Yet when he returned home, he couldn’t find an employer willing to invest in him.
His story strikes a familiar chord among veterans returning from the rigors of war amid a grinding recession. Jobs are scarce, businesses choosy, soldiers are too often viewed as damaged and their military training and experience dismissed as irrelevant, Graham told U.S. Sen. Patty Murray during a forum Friday afternoon in Spokane.
“Ma’am, our company took 85 percent casualties. We’re messed up … mentally and physically,” he said of the soldiers he helped lead through the violence of Iraq’s Anbar province.
It has made fitting into the civilian world more difficult, said Graham, 36, who is in a job skills training program at Spokane Community College. “Employees don’t want us,” he said. “They ask themselves, ‘Is it worth the risk of hiring this guy?’ ”
Too often, Graham said, the answer is “Thank you for your service. Now there’s the door.”
Murray has heard similar tales and said she is troubled by this sobering statistic: The unemployment rate among young veterans returning from war is 21 percent.
“It’s crazy. We have to help,” she said.
Murray plans to introduce a bill that she said will bolster training and reintegration of military personnel into the work force. And she wants to expand the GI Bill to include assistance for vocational training rather than just four-year universities.
Her bill may also include seed money for small-business loans to veterans through the Small Business Administration.
Natoine “Rock” Lively Sr. spent 21 years on a Navy submarine. He left as a chief petty officer but said finding a management job in the private sector is daunting. At 41 years old he is selling cars while continuing to search for a job.
Fitting into the civilian world after spending years in the military has been tough for generations, he said. “You almost feel like a foreigner in your own country.”
Robert Lee, an Army staff sergeant, is collecting unemployment and remains frustrated that his diesel mechanic training in the military is not considered adequate by many employers.
His job prospects are also hurt by his disclosures that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Indeed, such conditions make employers wary, noted Graham.
“(Companies) worry you might just one day lose it,” he said.
Jerry Mertens, director of services at Haskins Steel Co. in Spokane, said he was ashamed to hear of employers shying away from hiring veterans.
“I move their applications to top of the pile,” he said. “We recognize their service translates into the work ethic we need.”