East Tennessee veteran struggles to find work in weak economy

East Tennessee veteran struggles to find work in weak economy

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Someone with prior military experience "brings focus, they bring an innate sense of leadership. You're taught in the Marines, not just to follow orders, but to those around you, to lead them," James Robinson said. Someone with prior military experience "brings focus, they bring an innate sense of leadership. You're taught in the Marines, not just to follow orders, but to those around you, to lead them," James Robinson said.

By DON DARE
6 On Your Side Reporter

LOUDON (WATE) - Discharged military veterans who answered the call in the nation's most recent wars have been hit hard by the economy. They're having a hard time finding work.

After the 9/11 attacks, many men and women went into the military straight out of high school. Although they have experience, they don't have the college degrees employers are seeking. So they find themselves looking for work during one of the worst economic times in decades.

Career counselor Bill Howell and Marine veteran James Robinson have been meeting for weeks. The familiar walk down the hallway at the state career center is a walk in the park for James compared to where he's worked the last few years.

The war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq are where Cpl. Robinson worked for the vast majority of his four-year hitch.

Although the job provided the security of a regular pay check and a bed, at age 28 he's ready to move to the next phase of his life as a civilian.

But finding a job is not as easy as James imagined after he was honorably discharged earlier this year.

"They let you know that the job market is not that great. There are certain jobs you can go for. They give you a lot of assistance with transition, but I thought it would be a little easier than this," James said.

He says "just getting interviews" has been the most difficult thing.

At the career center, Bill Howell found one full time entry level opening and several part time jobs. James is looking for part time work since he'll enter college in January.

While the job market is extremely tight, James has skills employers are looking for.

"It's a tough time right now with the unemployment level, downsizing and out sourcing of jobs," Howell said. "But I think the young veterans coming out now are better equipped to fit right into the job market."

The unemployment rate among all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans like James was 11.5 percent at the end of 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's higher than the jobless rate of 8.7 percent for veterans of all eras and 9.4 percent for non-veterans.

But there are about 200,000 more veterans in the workforce this November than there were this time last year. And their numbers could rise in upcoming months as more service people return from overseas and decide to leave the military.

"The interview is the key," James said. "I know I can sell myself once I get in, but on paper not everything looks good."

More than 65 years ago under the original GI Bill, the golden age for veterans lasted less than 10 years.

Back then vets were guaranteed a mustering-out  pay, unemployment checks for one year and financial assistance for higher education and training.

But after that, the GI Bill was cut and slashed.

The new GI Bill, in effect for two years now, will benefit veterans like James Robinson. That's one reason why the Loudon High School graduate plans on taking advantage of a monthly housing allowance, nearly 100 percent tuition at a state school and money to buy books.

James sees a four-year college degree as imperative for his future, but in the meantime he'll need a job.

As a former Marine radio repairman with some civilian job experience before he joined the service, James and many of his fellow Marines believe they have a leg up on other job seekers when it comes to being a good employee.

Someone with prior military experience "brings focus, they bring an innate sense of leadership. You're taught in the Marines, not just to follow orders, but to those around you, to lead them," James said.

Their work ethics and sense of service are attributes that veterans bring to businesses.


If you have a consumer issue, call the 6 On Your Side Hotline at 865-633-5974.

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