• From combat to corporate -- and the new stigma blocking some veterans

    Courtesy of Chris Perkins

    Chris Perkins is a former U.S. Marine who served in Iraq until 2006. His battalion suffered heavy casualties.

    At job fairs this summer from Denver to Colorado Springs, retired Army sergeant Thomas Maretich always bumps into the usual suspects and an all-too-familiar gaze of frustration — as if he’s staring into a mirror.

    “I keep seeing the same people — mostly veterans — and I’m talking about captains, people with college degrees. They’ve been all over the world, have all kinds of experience. But it’s just the same guys over and over,” said Maretich, who in June earned a medical retirement from the Army.

    “There are just a handful of jobs and thousands of veterans lined up for them. How are you supposed to get a job?” asked Maretich, a Colorado Springs resident with more than 20 years of Army experience. “Our veteran numbers are growing and jobs aren’t growing fast enough. It’s a real problem.”


    Yet amid the listless hiring rates of a slack economy, men and women with combat experience are being purposely ignored by some employers who fear they may have the symptoms of  post-traumatic stress disorder, thus making them — in their view — risky candidates, said John E. Pickens III, executive director of VeteransPlus.

    “While it’s good that employers and general public understand (PTSD) issues, there may be some employers who know just enough to be reluctant, and who say: I want to hire this guy but I don’t want this guy having his war experiences affect his work,” Pickens said. His nonprofit has offered financial counseling to more than 150,000 current and former service members. 

    “Some of the folks we talk to say they feel a little bit conspicuous. Employers are even reluctant to talk to them about their military experiences,” added Pickens, a former combat medic. “While eventually transitioning (into corporate jobs), their co-workers become aware that this is a veteran, and the veteran feels scrutinized to the point where it's like: ‘Are you OK?’ "

    Through his consultations with veterans over myriad money issues, Pickens said he has learned that some have opted not to seek treatment for PTSD symptoms at Veterans Affairs hospitals exactly because “they don’t want to be labeled or stigmatized” in their civilian jobs — or while trying to land one.

    Related: Opera about Iraq war reaches out to veterans
    Related: Vets battle PTSD stigma -- even if they don't have it

    “It’s like nobody wants to hire anybody with PTSD,” Maretich said. “It’s ridiculous. The whole thing got a bad name.”

    On his final mission in Iraq on Aug. 27, 2009 — during his fourth tour in a war zone — sergeant first class Maretich was stationed as the gunner atop an Army vehicle. A car approached, driven by “a kid,” he recalled. After Maretich determined the vehicle was an imminent threat, he shot and killed the driver, he said. The car, loaded with an estimated 500 pounds of explosives, nonetheless detonated, causing Maretich to suffer a traumatic brain injury, sleep problems, chronic back pain and a knee that required replacement.

    Related: 'Got Your 6' campaign helps vets return to civilian life

    He also was diagnosed with PTSD — now, be believes, an unmentioned roadblock to his hopes for a corporate job due to its attached stigma.

    The irony, he added, is that his duties in Iraq — including in operational intelligence and serving as a combat advisor to Iraqi soldiers — make him an ideal contender for a stateside job.

    “I don’t think there is better job training anywhere,” he said. “I’m pretty sure that if I can get an Iraqi soldier to do what we’re training him to do — in a different language and a different culture — I can handle any kind of training job in America where the people speak the same language.”

    Some companies, including New York-based financial giant Citi, have recognized that service members who have weathered combat carry unique talents into the boardroom. Last year, Citi hired 700 veterans and this year the company plans to hire at least 1,000 more, said Citi spokesman David Roskin.

    Courtesy of Chris Perkins

    Former U.S. Marine Chris Perkins has successfully moved from the lethal streets of Iraq to the fierce ways of Wall Street.

    Former U.S. Marine Chris Perkins has maneuvered from lethal hot spots in Iraq to a high-pressure job on Wall Street. He exited the Marine Corps in 2006 and immediately recognized, he said, the same talents that fuel success in Manhattan’s hard-charging financial district are not dissimilar from the skills that helped Perkins thrive while serving in Ar Ramadi, the capital of the Al Anbar Province.

    Related: Mortgage woes afflict high rate of active troops, veterans

    “My job over there was to make very timely and accurate, quantitative decisions with the understanding of risk and risk managements,” said Perkins, now managing director and global head of OTC derivatives intermediation and clearing for Citi. He recalled one frightening moment — delivering bicycles to an Iraqi school then being pinned down by insurgent gunfire five minutes later and about one block away.

    Over time, 260 Marines were wounded within his battalion of 1,000 and 16 were killed in action.

    Courtesy of Citi

    Today, Perkins is an executive with Citi but also helping other veterans ease into the corporate workforce.

    “When I was able to navigate into the financial services sector, I asked: ‘Hey, you guys are traders, right? Isn’t that what you’re doing? Aren’t you making quantitative decisions all day long while understanding the risks you are taking?’

    "The successful traders said, ‘Yes, that’s exactly we’re doing.’ So I was able to transfer my skills into that job,” said Perkins, who later founded the Citi Military Veterans Network and played a leading role in working with fellow veterans within the financial services industry to co-found Veterans on Wall Street.

    Veterans who apply for corporate gigs should carry not a stigma, Perkins said, but a stamp of approval: they’re wired to work long hours with minimal sleep, start early, complete assigned tasks — all with a certain intensity and focus that only can be sharpened by battle experience.

    But maybe too many hiring managers and human resources honchos “have just seen too many ‘Rambo’ movies,” Maretich speculated. “Maybe they think we’re all going to come back and not be productive.

    “Believe me, man, if I could go out there and swing a hammer, I would. I can’t anymore. The one thing I can do is work in a corporate environment,” he added. “And the thing is, I’ve been really training to do that for years.

    “In the civilian world, it’s not life and death. You’re not working 12 hours a day 7 days a week. You’re not worried whether your next decision is going to get everybody killed when they go out there. The corporate world would actually be a lot easier.” 

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  • Living the dream: My new job as a KISS roadie

    Back in March, rock band KISS announced they wanted to offer a roadie job to a deserving U.S. veteran for their upcoming tour with Motley Crue. After receiving over 1900 applications for the job, Gene Simmons reveals the winner.

    My name is Paul Jordan and I work for KISS. It is my dream job. But how did it all happen? Why KISS, and why hire me?

    It all started in 1975, when I was 4 years old. A kid who lived near me came over to my house and asked if I could play. My mom sent him to my room. He was a few years older than me and not nearly as sheltered. He walked into my room wearing a down vest and acting very sneaky.

    He pulled a record out of the vest and we played it on my little plastic record player. He said to keep it quiet; it had a curse word in it. In 1975, that was a big deal and fairly unheard of.

    As the song “Black Diamond” started, we heard the word “bitch” and covered our mouths in amusement and disbelief. I grabbed the album cover to get a closer look at these crazy guys in costumes and face paint. The album was “Alive!” by KISS. I was hooked for life and have been a fan ever since.

    Courtesy Paul Jordan

    Paul Jordan's served in the U.S. Army 21 years, including deployments in Iran, Afghanistan, and the former Yugoslavia.

    In 1989, I saw a video on Army Rangers in a recruiting office and joined the Army as an infantryman. During my almost 21 years of service, I have been all over the world, including two peacekeeping missions in the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia and Kosovo) and combat tours in the Middle East (twice in Iraq and once in Afghanistan).

    I retired in November 2010. Since then, the only jobs I could find were through temp agencies working in manufacturing and production. I have sent my resume out to countless companies, only to receive e-mails stating that they have filled the position but would keep my resume on file (when I heard back from them at all). It was very frustrating.

    One day in March, a Facebook friend posted me an article that said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Hiring Our Heroes, NBC News’ initiative to put military veterans back in the workforce, had joined forces with KISS to hire a veteran as a roadie for the band’s 45-city tour across the U.S. this summer with Motley Crue. I said to myself: “That’s me!!!”

    I submitted my resume and started a Facebook event to get people to write letters of recommendation on my behalf. I was very active, but I never thought I would get chosen. Then I got the call from James Cunningham at Hiring Our Heroes. He asked if I was still interested, interviewed me, and asked if I could fly to New York to be on the TODAY show as one of three finalists.

    So on live TV, with millions watching across the country, Gene Simmons announced me as the winner. I never imagined that I would be working for KISS.

    And so the adventure begins....

    Watch the Hiring Our Heroes blog for updates on Paul Jordan’s adventures as a KISS roadie. For details on the more than 400 job fairs being held across the country throughout the year, click here.

    Related:
    Gene Simmons surprises vet with dream job: KISS roadie!
    Comcast and NBC Universal will hire 1,000 veterans
    Hiring our Heroes 'unlocks the potential' of vets
    Capital One, Comcast pledge to hire vets

  • Study: U.S. colleges doing more for homecoming veterans but gaps remain

    Steve Abel

    Thomas Krause, a former Marine sergeant, is now a sophomore at Rutgers University. He credits the school's veterans-support program for keeping him enrolled.

    Without the veteran-support hub on his campus, former Marine sergeant Thomas Krause can quickly calculate the odds that he long ago would have dropped out of Rutgers University.

    "If this service was not provided for me, there's probably a 1 percent chance I would still be here," said Krause, a pre-business sophomore. He volunteers as well at the Rutgers Office of Veteran and Military Programs and Services, which supplies returning service members with academic tutors and advice on how to socially blend into university life. After starting classes last September, Krause walked into the veterans' office two months later and immediately — finally — connected with fellow students. He spoke from that office on Wednesday. 

    "Here, I met a bunch of guys who had also served and who were going to school, the same age group, the same mentality," said Krause, 24. "Because I'm in class with 18 year olds, it's a weird transition. So I go out with my friends here, and I currently even live with one of the guys I met here. It's pretty much: This place is my Rutgers life."

    Rutgers is often cited by groups that aid college veterans as one of the nation's top schools for helping ease former military personnel into and through the rigors of higher education. 

    On Wednesday, a new survey of 690 U.S. colleges was released showing that 62 percent of those schools offer programs and services specifically designed for military service members and veterans — up from 57 percent in 2009, when the same survey was previously conducted. 


    The survey, "From Soldier to Student II: Assessing Campus Programs for Veterans and Service Members," was completed via a partnership between the American Council on Education (ACE), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and NAVPA, the National Association of Veteran’s Program Administrators.

     

    Other key findings showed across-the-board improvement since 2009, when the post-9/11 G.I. Bill went into effect, massively boosting available financial aid for homecoming veterans: 

    • Seventy-one percent of institutions that offer programs and services for military and veteran students have a dedicated office serving those students, up from 49 percent in 2009.
    • Eighty-four percent of the institutions that offer services for veteran and military students provide counseling to assist with post-traumatic stress disorder, compared to 16 percent in 2009.
    • Fifty-five percent of the institutions that offer services for veteran and military students have staff trained to assist with physical disabilities, up from 33 percent in 2009, and 36 percent have staff trained to assist specifically with brain injuries, up from 23 percent in 2009.
    • Forty-seven percent offer a veteran student lounge or gathering place, up from 12 percent in 2009.

    Steven Harriott

    Thomas Krause during his days with the U.S. Marine Corps.

    “It is very encouraging," said Young M. Kim, a research analyst at the Center for Policy Analysis and one of the study's four authors. 

    "But while there are areas of improvement, I don’t think everything we’re sharing today is, by any means, close to indicating that everything is very well off," Kim added. "There are places where there are still gaps.

    "One that comes to mind is the transitional issues — veterans coming back from combat theaters really can be (better) helped by faculty and staff members on campus with their transition on campus. And for service members who get redeployed, and that happens quite frequently with a lot of men women, they sometimes struggle with re-enrollment when they come back from military services." 

    The authors received survey responses from 262 public four-year colleges, 238 public two-year schools, 164 private not-for-profit four-year schools, but just 26 for-profit schools. A few dozen for-profit colleges were openly chastised earlier this year for hawking their campuses as veteran-friendly yet failing to meet that sales pitch. Returning servicemen and women on the G.I. Bill make attractive enrollment candidates for many schools because their G.I. tuition reimbursement is paid directly from the federal government to the colleges. 

    Related: Company accused of deception turns GIBill.com over to Veterans Affairs

    "We were somewhat disappointed to get so few responses from for-profit institutions," Kim said. 

    At Rutgers, veterans freshly back from Iraq, Afghanistan or other service locales can turn to the military-support office for almost any question they have about launching or maintaining a college career, Krause said. Even better, it allows veterans to mingle with similar people. Another key: that center is run by a former Army officer, retired Col. Stephen G. Abel. 

    "They make everything so easy for us. They make everything flow," Krause said. "Any problem we have, they can guide us in the correct manner or they can take care of it themselves." 

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  • Obama announces 'reverse bootcamp' for veterans

    Departing service members will soon have access to a "reverse boot camp" that offers new veterans more robust transition services, said President Obama in a speech Monday afternoon before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev.

    Traditionally known as TAP (transition assistance program), the program has long provided service members with information about benefits as well as workshops on career options and job search skills. Veterans' advocates, however, have in recent years urged substantial changes to the program as the unemployment rate for former service members exceeded that of the national rate. Last August, the president convened a task force to overhaul TAP for the first time in 20 years.


    The new initiative extends TAP from a three-day workshop to five to seven days, which includes a financial planning seminar, a redesigned employment workshop and a planning session in which service members can explore career options and talk to experts.

    Service members will be also be able to meet with a counselor to discuss their career goals as well as VA benefits and resources.

    "We'll provide the training they need to find that job, or pursue that education, or start that business," Obama said. "And just as they've maintained their military readiness, we'll have new standards of career readiness."

    That training will also include the option to take a course tailored to a service member's specific career interest, whether it be a higher education degree, credentials in certain skills or small-business ownership.

    The changes to TAP will be fully implemented by the end of 2013.

    The unemployment rate for all veterans in June was lower than the national average at 7.4 percent, though the rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans was 9.5 percent.

    Heather Ansley, vice president of veterans policy for the advocacy organization VetsFirst, told NBC News that the substantial changes promise to give service members more individualized guidance on how to successfully transition from military life.

    "We’ve known for some time that TAP wasn’t fulfilling its mission of preparing folks," said Ansley.

    By offering service members individualized counseling and job readiness sessions, Ansley said, TAP can better prepare new veterans based on a variety of factors, including their education, career goals and physical or psychological disabilities.

    Ansley is hopeful that the TAP initiative will also help service members answer logistical questions about life outside of the military, including what to do without housing benefits and how to calculate what kind of paycheck is needed. The changes, she said, will help veterans learn "how to make that transition without being surprised."

    Rebecca Ruiz is a reporter at NBC News. Follow her on Twitter here.

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  • Program helps 10,000 vets find jobs

    Since the U.S. Chamber of Congress launched the Hiring Our Heroes program in March 2011, 10,000 veterans have found jobs. Cory Ketchum, the 10,000 hire, joins NewsNation to discuss. 

     

  • Jobless vets need to think outside military box

    Veterans have to get out of the military mindset if they’re going to adapt to the civilian workplace. And that means gearing up for a new outlook even before they leave the armed forces behind.

    While it’s important to be proud of military service, it’s also critical for a vets career to know how to play up and play down their years serving your country, advised Randy Plunkett, the director of community and government outreach for Military.com, during our live web chat Wednesday.

    “Two common mistakes transitioning military make are to not start early in transitioning and to use military jargon on their resumes,” he told readers.

    One reader, Phil, a captain in the Army with a degree in history from West Point, asked Plunkett: “What kind of jobs are available for someone with my background?”

    Plunkett’s response:

    “Think about your ancillary experience. Not only do you have a degree, you have more than just your army job. You are a human resources manager - talking with soldiers about their careers, you supervise and manage extensive training programs, you actively participate in performance reviews, and you have extensive diversity and inclusion workplace experience.”

    It’s all about taking your experience in the military, he explained, and pointing out how what you did can fit into the real work world.

    “We need a fundamental change in thinking,” he stressed. “Military members have to think in terms of their big picture, large category experience, not just their classification.”

    Here’s the entire Q&A with Plunkett:

     Join us next Wednesday for another live web chat with an expert that will address money or work issues.

  • Veterans return from war to find jobs gone

    Courtesy Andrae Evans

    Andrae Evans in Kandahar during humanitarian patrol in 2009.

    Members of the National Guard and Reserve sign up to serve our country as needed, and when they return home many expect to find their civilian jobs waiting for them.

    Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

    Tim Hack

    Adrae Evans with his daughter Ariel, wife Kristin, and son Gabe, before his 4th deployment.

    Andrae Evans was an insurance sales manager and a member of the New York Army National Guard in 2004 when he was deployed to Iraq. When he was released from active duty in 2006 his former employer, MassMutual Financial Group, would not reinstate him to the position he left behind.

    “I hoped to work things out with MassMutual and believed, wrongly, that they would do the right thing,” said Evans, who's been unable to find work and recently took on a temporary National Guard assignment. He is now in Bagram, Afghanistan, and is suing MassMutual. The company says they were not required to reinstate Evans because he was an independent contractor, not an employee.

    In another case, a prosecutor for the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office, Andrew Gross, signed up for the U.S. Army Reserve in 2009, and when he returned from a six-month military training program found his job wasn’t waiting for him when he returned.

    “I was told I’d have to go to the back of the line to get my job back,” said Gross, who sued the State’s Attorney's office and settled the case late last year.

    Mark Cheshire, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, said the new state's attorney inherited the case from his predecessor and moved “to resolve the matter in an equitable fashion" when he took office.

    National Guard and Reserve soldiers have faced numerous deployments and calls to duty during the years of war over the past decade, and many have returned to find they no longer had jobs they expected to return to. Some contend they have faced  discrimination on their return, or retaliation for their military service.

    Such actions are illegal under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, or USERRA, which is supposed to help protect veterans when they return to the workforce. 

    Complaints brought under the law have escalated in recent years, mirroring the number of guard and reservists returning to their civilian lives.

    Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

    Number inquiries from vets regarding USERRA and total number of cases taking on by the government.

    According to data from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, inquiries under the law started to skyrocket in 2010, more than doubling to 34,612, compared with a year earlier. The number of Guard and Reserve members who came off active duty during 2010 also spiked to 91,931 from 48,702 in 2009 before dropping to 45,968 last year, according to the Defense Department.

    The number of USERRA complaints also dipped to about 30,000 in 2011, and shows signs of leveling off so far this year. But many veteran advocates expect the problem to continue as the drawdown from Afghanistan proceeds.

    “I think as the wars have gone on it has challenged, both spiritually and pragmatically, civilian employers' approach to USERRA,” said Ward Carroll, editor of the Military.com website and blog.

    While he’s empathetic to employers who’ve had to function without key employees during their deployments, he stressed the importance of complying with the law.

    “It’s part of your duty as an American employer to comply with USERRA and help citizen soldiers,” he said. “Between now and 2014, these challenges to USERRA will continue.”

    Steven D. Silverman, the attorney who represented Gross in his suit against the Baltimore City State’s Attorney, said he’s seen a doubling in USERRA claims in his practice over the past year. “I attribute that to the economy and ignorance of the law by employers,” he said.

    Indeed, a March survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that nearly 40 percent of veterans polled felt their employer didn’t have enough information about their rights under USERRA.

    Gross said he doesn’t believe his managers wanted to undermine military service. “I think if they had an understanding of the law this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.

    In the case of Evans, who worked for MassMutual, his complaint is that he was not reinstated in the higher position he got before being deployed, said Michael Macomber, an attorney with Tully Rinckey who is representing him. The law, he noted, doesn’t just call for hiring employees back, but also keeping them in a similar position.

    MassMutual said in a statement it is “fully complying” with USERRA and will “vigorously defend” its position in court.


    A tight job market has exacerbated the problem in recent years, agreed government officials and legal experts. The unemployment rate among veterans who've been on active duty since September 2001 was 12.1 percent in 2011, compared to 8.2 percent overall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Of course while business conditions may change, most employers want to do the right thing and comply with the law by hiring back returning veterans.

    “I believe our employers by an overwhelming vast majority are living up to their responsibilities under USERRA," said Ronald Young, director of family and employer programs and policy in the Pentagon’s Office of Reserve Affairs.

    While Young acknowledged some of the uptick in USERRA complaints might have resulted from employers skirting the law, a big chunk had to do with better tracking of cases and more outreach to employers and employees by the government.

    His agency recognizes employers that do a good job supporting National Guard and Reserve members by awarding them the Freedom Award. This year Intel Corp. made the list.

    Courtesy Mark Miera

    Mark Miera

    “We have tools in place to help managers fill temporary positions for whatever reason the position is open,” said Lisa Malloy, a spokeswoman for Intel, which employs 100,000, including about 3,000 who have been in the military. 

    Mark Miera, 43, a National Guard member in New Mexico who’s worked for Intel for 18 years, has had two deployments since 9/11, including a stint in Afghanistan that ended in December.

    When he was overseas colleagues messaged him about a position as manager of construction at Intel, and before he came back to work he ended up with a promotion.

    “Intel has always moved beyond the requirements of the law,” he said. “They don’t question protecting veterans returning from war and their positions.”

    (For more on this issue, join a live web chat Wednesday at noon ET with Randy Plunkett, Military.com's government relations and community director. Click here to join the chat.)

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  • Why companies do, or don't, hire veterans

    Employers value the leadership and other characteristics associated with military duty, but they also have trouble figuring out how military experience might translate into civilian job skills, a new report finds.

    The Center for a New American Security, a think tank that examines national security and defense issues, conducted in-depth interviews with representatives of 69 companies in an effort to understand why employers either hire or don’t hire veterans.

    The report sheds light on why so many veterans might not be having any luck getting a job once they get out of the military.

    The unemployment rate for veterans who served since Sept. 11, 2001, was 12.7 percent in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, versus the national rate of 8.2 percent.

    The problem is only expected to get worse as more veterans enter the civilian job market because of drawdowns in the Middle East and the possibility of military budget tightening.

    The report found that employers see good reason to hire veterans, and it’s mainly for the skills many associate with military experience. Those include their leadership and teamwork skills, dependability and maturity.

    The public relations value of hiring a veteran ranked very low on the list, with only about 10 percent of the companies citing it.

    But the researchers found that even those companies that are actively recruiting veterans find barriers in hiring them.

    Those biggest problem: It’s difficult to figure out how to translate military skills into applicable work experience in civilian life.

    The report noted that even junior officers may have had the type of experience employers are looking for, such as responsibility for a big project or management of a team of workers, but many veterans don’t know how to present their military skills to accentuate those talents.

    More than half of the employers also expressed concerns about post-traumatic stress and instability after deployments.

    Employers also said another problem was a mismatch between the skills veterans have and the ones they need for  civilian jobs. Another common concern was whether work would be interrupted by deployments.

    The research was funded by large companies including Prudential, JPMorgan Chase and BAE Systems, although the researchers said they retained editorial control of the project.

    Tip of the hat to USA Today, which earlier reported on this study.

    Related:

    Younger veterans want to work but face roadblocks

    Many recent vets face another battle: Finding a job

    Defense cutbacks worry some military families