Politics & Government

Veterans tell Murray about job problems

After 21 years and seven tours with the Army's Special Forces, Master Sgt. Kasey Melton is struggling to find a job.

A single father of two daughters ages 5 and 7, Melton has sent out more than 350 résumés for positions in federal and local agencies.

“The U.S. Army does a great job of helping you find (government) jobs, but there’s a lot of red tape in the federal system,” said Melton, who will retire from the military May 1. “I’m just trying to keep the lights from turning out.”

Melton was part of a panel of seven unemployed veterans and veterans who are now business owners who met with Sen. Patty Murray in Tacoma on Monday afternoon to discuss the barriers former members of the military face in the job market. Murray is talking to servicemen and women across the state while she works on legislation to aid out-of-work veterans.

“You come back, and those technical skills don’t always translate to a great resume and a job,” Murray said at the Southwest Washington Electrical JATC, which provides training for electricians.

The jobless rate last year for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ages 18 to 24 was 21.1 percent, according to the Department of Labor. In comparison, the jobless rate for nonveterans in the same age group was 16.6 percent.

Darrel Bowman, who left the Coast Guard in 1981, employs veterans in his computer firm in University Place. One major problem that former soldiers face is that their military certifications don’t extend to the civilian world, he said. “You should be able to take a practical exam and pass it, and get the job.”

While serving in the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, Deidre Connor was in charge of ordering weapons, gear and Stryker vehicles for 4,500 soldiers. She left the military in 2005 (“Iraq was enough,” she said) and has been unemployed for a year.

“I can’t even get a job at an Office Depot,” said Connor, a nine-year veteran who lives in Bonney Lake. “How am I not qualified to count paper, pens and pencils?”

Connor found that even many entry-level positions were closed to her, despite her training. “I could go clean kennels for minimum wage … but it’s not putting my skills to use.” The G.I. Bill, which provides financial aid for college and other benefits, should be expanded, the veteran panel said.

“Under the post-9/11 bill, if you go online and take classes, you don’t get housing paid for,” Melton said. In order to receive a housing stipend, “you need to be in a classroom, and that doesn’t work if you have kids.”

Murray said she would research incorporating apprenticeship programs into the G.I. Bill, so veterans could ease into the civilian work force.

“We’ve invested a lot of money in your training and skills, and for you to come out and to have those skills evaporate – that’s crazy,” she said.