Thursday, July 27, 2017 This Week's Paper

Murray Meets With Veterans

// Vets Often Face Battle for Jobs After Leaving the Front Lines

Military veterans are finding that their struggles do not end when they leave the battlefield or even separate from the Armed Forces altogether.

Transitioning from military life to the civilian workplace is an all too real fact of life for returning military personnel. But that is changing.

The unemployment rate for veterans around the nation last year had been hovering around 15 percent, about double the civilian unemployment rate in some areas.

President Barack Obama's recent creation of the "Veterans Job Corps" could spend up to $1 billion during the next five years so that some 120,000 veterans could go to work on restoration programs around the country, much like the Civilian Conversation Corps did during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Cities that hire veterans as police and firefighters would also get preferential treatment on grant applications as well through a $5 billion package in the plan.

More programs are on the way that would help community and technical colleges connect these veterans with well paying jobs, particularly in aerospace industries.

That puts Murray on the frontlines as the chair of the Senate's Committee on Veterans Affairs, a senior member of the state's delegation in Washington, D.C., and the daughter of a World War II veteran.

"We kind of say 'thank you very much' and now go out and find a job," she said, noting that she has heard from veterans and Reservists who leave their military service off their resumes as away to get job interviews because some businesses worry about a worker leaving for a deployment or suffering from post traumatic stress disorder while on the job.

She held a roundtable in Tacoma last week with veterans, aerospace businesses that seek out veteran workers and leaders from employment and college programs that work to transition veterans to civilian workplaces.

General Plastics Manufacturing Co. hosted the event because it, Murray said, serves as a model for other businesses to follow. About 10 percent of its 200 employees have military backgrounds.

"Hiring veterans is good for our bottom line," said General Plastics Vice President Kirk Lider.

One of those veterans is Sarat Ham, who left the military two years ago after serving his country for six years. He has worked at the company for about 18 months, but found it hard to articulate to potential employers how his infantry training translated into the civilian world.

While community colleges have veteran-focused programs and assistance opportunities, many of those programs are struggling to keep up with demand. Clover Park Technical College's training program for veterans looking at aerospace careers has a waiting list well into 2015.

One of those veterans turned CPTC students is Michael A. Wright, who served in the Navy before leaving on disability to then find a 30-year career working for the Department of Corrections. He is now looking for a third career after being laid off some two years ago when McNeil Island Correction Center first started closing down operations.

"I have been lost in the system for two and a half years," he said.

 He credits the personalized attention he received at CPTC, its veterans resource center and the work of the Unfinished Mission nonprofit that provides referrals and assistance to veterans struggling to find civilian employment.

"It is the glue that holds everything together," Wright said. 

 Ann Sprute runs Unfinished Mission, a program she founded after serving 24 years in the Army as a helicopter pilot and squadron commander.

"A veteran or retiree should never have to grovel for help," she said.