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More programs, but little headway on getting veterans back to work

By   /   July 24, 2012  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON – By the time Matt Tullberg left the U.S. Army last September, he’d served nine years, including seven in management.

He’d logged more than 1,000 hours as a helicopter crew man; and he’d gained advanced medical training and experience through his work as a medic.

But when the time came to find a civilian job?

Tullberg searched for nearly a year.

“Nobody called me back,” he said.

Now 28, the Sheboygan native is mulling whether to start his own business, but for the moment is focused on finishing a double degree in labor relations and human resources management at Rutgers University, while he and his wife raise their two sons, ages 4 and 6.

“For the year before I got out, I was looking for different work, different management positions or security positions even, and money-wise, it wasn’t there,” Tullberg said.

He added, “And if you’re in a leadership position, where you’re used to taking charge and making decisions, it’s pretty hard to go back to work and work for someone.”

Tullberg’s most-military struggles are far from the exception.

Photo courtesy of Mike Baird

Federal and state governments, in conjunction with business and veterans groups, are trying to lower unemployment among returning veterans. Still, experts say the rate for post-9/11 veterans still hovers around 12 to 13 percent.Wisconsin alone had 12,000 veterans collecting unemployment checks at the beginning of this year, according to the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs.

The latest available information from the Department of Workforce Development dates to 2010, when the unemployment rate for Wisconsin’s post-9/11 veterans was 13.3 percent.

But DVA Secretary John Scocos admits that, although the government, veterans agencies and business groups take the problem seriously, they haven’t made much headway.

“To me, it’s unconscionable that some of these men and women have served two or three tours and they’re struggling to get jobs,” Scocos said. “It kind of goes hand and hand with our economy, but we’ve got to be aggressive.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. Small Business Administration, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense, launched a program aimed at training veterans on how to start businesses and create jobs.

The U.S. Marine Corps is piloting the Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup program at a handful of sites around the country. The program is intended to train veterans in business, but also to help them network with other businesses in their communities, Ness said.

The long-term goal is to roll out the program throughout the United States and different branches of the military in 2013, said Eric Ness, director of SBA’s Wisconsin branch.

“Because of their training and their experience and their leadership skills, (veterans are) really in a good position to be entrepreneur and to start their own businesses,” he said. “And what we need to make sure, is that our business communities are connected to them.”

Veterans face the same realities that everyone else faces in a weak economy: Wisconsin’s overall unemployment rate rose to 7 percent last month, according to the DWD’s initial numbers, and the private sector shed 11,700 jobs.

But, assisted by veterans and business groups, the government is trying to remove additional barriers to veteran employment.

With Boots to Business, that means educating veterans on starting a business.

The DVA also continues to host job fairs aimed at pairing Wisconsin businesses with veterans who have the necessary skills – matching transportation companies, for instance, with veterans accustomed to driving 20-ton vehicles.

The Legislature passed several veteran-friendly bills last spring, including legislation to waive professional-licensure fees for qualified veterans and a bill that gives tax incentives to businesses that hire disabled veterans.

Even Disney is trying to help, pledging to hire 1,000 veterans and launching a “Heroes Work Here” initiative.

Scocos said the DVA will be working in the coming months to fight for more help for military families and, as part of the budget process, he hopes to get more money for programs that help veterans settle into civilian life.

“We need to get (the veterans’ unemployment rate) down there at 7 percent,” he said. “Or lower.”