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Unique Programs Offer Help to Veterans

Filed by KOSU News in Feature, Local News.
March 8, 2012

The following story was written by KOSU’s Quinton Chandler.

After the pomp and cheerful energy of welcome home celebrations, it is easy to forget returned soldiers and their efforts to adjust to life out of uniform. When members of the 45th Infantry return to Oklahoma this spring some will be out of work.

Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Weston McBride is out of uniform, but career-wise he’s not straying too far from the service.

“My initial one is to do a consulting business that does contracting, what I did for the military is that I wrote contracts all day. So what I’m trying to do is take that knowledge and bundle it and sell it back to the military in the form of a consultant. Once I finish my business plan I should be good to go.”

Not every veteran is ready to start up a business. When searching for a job many have to learn simple steps. Here is John Priddy of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.

“Many of them are young and their military service has been the first real employment they’ve had so they haven’t gone through process of building a resume, looking for work through the various media that’s available to them, knowing how to actually apply for a position, and then interview.”

What about the military? After years of dictating orders, do they just pull their hands off the wheel with a quick salute and a ‘good luck soldier’? What kind of support is given to troops when they finish their tours?

“When you retire in the military they give you a class, and that class it gets you to move away from the military structure to a civilian structure. They teach you how to do a resume they teach you how your military skills convey to civilian skills, they try to do that to the best of their abilities. It’s about a week long course.”

These government programs may be good for some, but there are problems that can’t be solved in a week. Ted Daywalt is CEO of VetJobs, a veterans service organization.

“But the National Guard, when they come back, many of them don’t have a job. Your brigade there in Oklahoma that’s over in Kuwait right now reportedly has a 68% unemployment rate because their employers cut them loose as soon as they heard they were going to get called up. And if they let them go before they get their orders in hand the employers are able to get around the USERRA Law.”

The USERRA Law protects deployed soldier’s jobs at home and the benefits that extend to their families. But, Daywalt says employers still find ways to fire Guard members, or they won’t hire them to begin with.

“If you’re an employer, your employee is constantly being taken away. You can’t run your company that way.”

“There is a massive study done by the society of Human Resources and Management that shows that upwards of 65% or more of employers today will not hire as a new employee an active member of the national guard and reserve.”

Daywalt testified before Congress, but they haven’t decided on a solution. Still Government aid isn’t the only option. OSU Professor Mike Morris heads an innovative program called the Veterans with Disabilities Entrepreneurship Program.

“VEP is a program to empower disabled veterans from around the country by helping them create their own ventures, their own entrepreneurial companies, helping them create jobs and wealth. We walk the entrepreneurial journey with these men and women.”

The yearlong program is free and led by some of the country’s top experts in entrepreneurship. It doesn’t seem likely that the ins and outs of business can be taught in such a short time, but Professor Morris and his team seem to have made it possible.

“There’s a six week online pre-course, there are eight intensive days while they are with us here in Stillwater. And then ten months of mentoring and the mentors are successful entrepreneurs and company presidents, our partner in the mentoring effort is the Tulsa rotary which is one of the most active rotaries in the country.”

Latonya Leonard, a retired Air force Major, is sold on VEP.

“ I’ve been through several business seminars and workshops over the last couple of years but I have not received any level of information that would actually get me up, going, motivated and excited about putting my plan into action and I plan to do that immediately upon leaving.”

Morris and his staff of volunteers don’t have to rely on just Latonya’s endorsement. VEP has a track record that speaks for itself.

“The success rate has been strong we’ve seen 26 ventures started over 50 ventures grow become more sustainable, add new products, add employees, add new markets. We’re seeing some real results as these veterans make it happen.”

Some members of the 45th may find getting a job more challenging than the rest of us, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be alone.

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