An unexpected battle

Danny Baca has applied to dozens of jobs and always hears the same line: “We’ll get back to you.”

But they don’t.

The Glendale resident is one of several local veterans who are struggling to find employment.

The jobless rate in October for those who served during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is 12.1% , compared to the civilian rate of 9%. This disparity, which has lasted for several months, has stirred the political pot in the days leading up to Veterans Day. On Thursday, the Senate passed part of President Obama’s jobs plan that gives a tax credit to companies that hire veterans . The bill is now pending before the House.

“It is very discouraging, putting in the time and effort just looking for jobs and being disappointed and always being worried,” said Baca, a 30-year-old who served in the Marine Corps through 2008. He works off and on with the Army National Guard, but that doesn’t bring him a steady paycheck.

Some employers, veterans said, don’t always consider military service as job experience , while others may shy away from hiring veterans because of the high incidence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in that group.

A tight job market following a protracted recession also doesn’t help. And following the coming drawdown in forces overseas, the unemployment rate may shoot up, especially as some military branches cut services short to save money, said Trevor Albertson, California Department of Veterans Affairs’ deputy secretary of veterans services.

“You’ve got the economic downturn and tons of veterans coming home,” Albertson said. “It’s a perfect storm of terrible things unfortunately.”

Albertson said veterans returning from wars in the past faced similar unemployment issues, many challenged by a lack of education. Earlier this week the Department of Veterans Affairs and California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office announced an agreement to streamline the application process for those exiting active duty.

But getting retrained doesn’t always help.

Tracey Cooper-Harris went back to school after serving in the army for 12 years, discharged in 2003. While deployed in Iraq, she worked as an animal care specialist looking after drug and bomb-sniffing dogs. When she returned home, she discovered she would need two years of schooling to get a special license to use her veterinary skills. The 38-year-old from Pasadena said her friends who worked as medics faced the same problem.

Rather than relearning what she already knew, she earned a degree in kinesiology from Pasadena City College with the goal of becoming a physical therapist, but that didn’t pan out. Now she’s looking into government jobs.

Tired of politicians saying they support the troops with little concrete action, Cooper-Harris went to Washington in April with a veterans advocacy group to lobby for benefits.

“People say they support the troops. If you really support the troops, hire us,” Cooper-Harris said.

When asked if she thought a veteran competing with a civilian for a job should get preference, she said she didn’t want to compare the two, but thought military service should be more highly regarded among employers.

“There’s a lot of good experience there with all the training that we go through. The sad fact is employers don’t necessarily see that,” she said.

Glendale has a yearlong rental assistance program that subsidizes veteran housing, a program officials would like to see continue, but funds may not be available to do so, said Deputy Housing Director Peter Zovak.

The Verdugo Jobs Center received a $465,000 grant from the state to subsidize wages of veterans in a manufacturing training program. After being unemployed for almost two years, Albert Viray, who served in the Army for five years through 2008 and did two tours in Iraq, got a job in September fabricating metals at Accurate Manufacturing in Glendale.

“I’m really glad I got this job,” Viray, 27, said. “If I didn’t, I don’t know what I’d do.”

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FYI

Forest Lawn of Hollywood Hills hosts a Veterans Day program at 11 a.m., 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles, in which Glendale is participating. There will be an aerial performance by the Golden Stars Skydiving Team and more. Admission is free. Call (800) 204-3131.

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