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VA Launches Jobs Plan for Struggling Young Vets  

By Robert Salonga
Capital News Service
Thursday, Oct. 13, 2005

WASHINGTON - High unemployment rates among young veterans prompted the Veterans Administration Thursday to announce a plan to help find jobs for recently discharged service members, particularly those back from Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics provided by the VA, recently discharged veterans ages 20 to 24 had a 15 percent unemployment rate through the first three quarters of 2005, up from 13.6 percent in 2004 and 11.1 percent in 2003.

The national rate as of September was 5.1 percent.

"Coming home in good health is a goal, but coming home to work is another," said R. James Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs. "Finding a job after the service and all of the rewards that come with that is the goal of this program."

Generally, the plan would consist of a network among federal, state and local governments specifically aimed at helping wounded and disabled veterans find jobs and receive job training. Nicholson said he has had conversations with most of the nation's governors and secured their support.

The unemployment statistics for young veterans were the driving force behind the program, since many of those seriously injured in Iraq and Afghanistan had enlisted immediately or shortly after high school, leaving them with few specialized skills for the civilian job market.

Army Pfc. Tristan Wyatt, 23, of Parker, Colo., found himself in this situation two years ago after recovering from injuries sustained in a firefight in Fallujah, Iraq, in August 2003 that required amputation of his right leg above the knee. He now works in the VA's central office, specializing in information technology.

"For a year, I was unemployed or did odd construction jobs," Wyatt said. "My only qualifications were shooting and jumping out of airplanes."

Army Sgt. Michael Meinen, 26, of Grangeville, Idaho, who also lost his right leg above the knee from the same rocket-propelled grenade that injured Wyatt, said the proposed program could significantly help young veterans who don't receive a hero's welcome at the employment office.

"A lot of the Army guys come from a poorer family and are looking for a way to go to school. We go to war and we come home with missing limbs, and it's hard for employers to take a serious look at us," he said.

The initiative was partly inspired by a program formed last year in which select servicemen and women rehabilitating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center volunteered at the VA central office, learning skills in information technology. Upon discharge, they were offered an entry-level job at the VA based on their skill set.

Both Wyatt and Meinen are beneficiaries of the program, known as "Vet IT." By using existing resources among the various levels of government, Nicholson said, he does not believe the new proposal would require any significant reallocation of department funds.

He also noted that while an emphasis was being placed on helping the seriously injured, the services will be available to all veterans.

Copyright 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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