Groups helping vets get to work

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Friday, November 11, 2011
— Derek Hauger joined the Army the summer after graduating from Janesville Craig High School in 2002.

The next spring, he was among the troops leading the invasion of Iraq.

The veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq, he joined the military with a friend because they thought it would be cool to shoot guns. The former infantryman now lives with memories of bullets, bombs and deaths.

He was blown out of his seat by a roadside bomb. The same incident killed his driver.

“It was pretty crazy. We lost a lot of people,” he said. “It wasn’t fun at all. I’m lucky to be standing here.”

The experience wounded his mind. He still scans the roadside. He checks rooftops. He knows there’s no danger, but he can’t help himself.

“It’s been a rough ride,” but it’s gotten better, he said.

On the outside, Hauger is a friendly guy who staffs a computer-help desk at Blackhawk Technical College.

“I really enjoy helping people,” he said at a veterans memorial ceremony held at BTC on Thursday.

Hauger has gotten counseling and medications, but he still feels the effects.

It’s no problem on the job, he said, because he keeps it bottled up.

He even smiled at a workplace prank: A co-worker sprang out and shot him with a Nerf gun. He hit the deck.

“I keep a smiling face and move on,” he said. “I try not to let it bother me.”

Those kinds of things are typical for combat veterans, said David Coleman, a speaker invited to discuss the topic at BTC on Thursday.

Coleman is not a veteran, but he has spent time with recent vets. He said they are changed for better and for worse by living for months with the stress of staying alive.

Colleges need to understand veterans’ mindset and make accommodations, Coleman said. And employers won’t be disappointed if they hire vets.

More that 1 million service members are projected to leave the military between 2011 and 2016. They are returning to a civilian world of high unemployment rates and a wounded economy.

The good news is the multitude of federal and state programs that can help them find jobs and deal with their injuries, both physical and emotional.

And their service has endowed them with positive traits.

Veterans know how to focus and get the job done, and they’re ready to take on leadership positions or take directions, Coleman said.

Charles Jones, who helps veterans find jobs at the Rock County Job Center, agrees, but he notes veterans face challenges.

If they never worked a civilian job, they might not have the skills or experience employers are looking for, Jones said. For example, manufacturers often require at least one year of manufacturing experience.

Veterans coming out of the service might lack experience, “but they have skills that can be translated into some of what they’re looking for in the manufacturing arena,” Jones said.

Jones translates the military jargon of a veteran’s resume into words that show an employer what the veteran can do.

Veterans bring leadership, dependability and similar traits to the table, traits that many young civilian workers don’t have “because they haven’t learned that discipline yet,” Jones said.

“And the fact that they’re trainable—and easily trainable—makes a big difference.”

Hauger tried factory work and other jobs after coming home in 2006.

“I hated it,” he said.

His mother pushed him to go back to school. He now holds an associate degree in computer networking. He’s still taking classes to upgrade his skills.

Coleman said veterans can feel a need to replace the adrenalin rush of combat. Many tend to drive fast. Motorcycle deaths are common. So is unleashing stress with lots of smoking and drinking. He recommended colleges provide safe physical competitions that get the blood rushing.

Hauger said he likes to drive fast, but nothing compares with the rush of combat.

War can change veterans’ personalities, Coleman said. They communicate differently. They might like to sit in the back of the room or away from windows, a habit that once kept them alive. They tend to answer questions directly, with little elaboration. They’re used to vulgar language and might let an occasional F-bomb slip out.

Instructors should take this into account, Coleman said.

Vets also deal with the emotional turmoil of re-learning how to relate to their families, who might not understand them, Coleman said.

BTC computer instructor Doug Tabbutt, a veteran himself, said it’s hard to get veterans to talk. They often want to get as far away as they can from anything military, so they don’t join the campus vets club.

But as students, “they’re great,” Tabbutt said.

Unemployment means lots of veterans from earlier conflicts also are looking for jobs these days, said Jones, who finds jobs for two to three veterans each week.

“I don’t see where there’s a whole lot of difference at all (between older and newer vets). They all want get back into the workforce and provide for their families,” Jones said.

Jones said employers and people in general seem more veteran-friendly today than they were 16 years ago when he was a recent vet. The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath probably had a lot to do with that, he said.

“It’s not just a Rock County thing. It’s more of an American thing,” he said.

Another factor is that employers saw many employees leave to serve in Guard and Reserve units and were happy to have them back after their deployments.

Jones notes that anyone who has been in combat knows how to focus and perform under pressure, something employers value.

But those traits can come with a price.

Hauger had this advice for those who are soon to return home:

“Get the help you deserve and need. It’s going to take time.

“It’s a lifelong journey. It never ends.”

Variety of services available for vets

Recent veterans are being sent “Gold Cards” to let them know that they can get “intensive assistance” at Job Centers, the Southwest Wisconsin Workforce Development Board announced Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Gold Card program offers services that include skills assessment, career guidance and job-search assistance, according to the news release.

Those services already were available to all veterans, but efforts will be made to streamline the process, which can seem challenging, said Robert Borremans, workforce development board executive director.

The Gold Card program targets post-9/11 veterans, but veterans of all eras will get the same treatment, said Charles Jones, veterans services representative at the Rock County Job Center.

More information on jobs for veterans:

-- Employers—If interested in hiring veterans, contact your local job center with job openings. Locally, contact Business Services Manager Eric Kuznacic at the Rock County Job Center, 1900 Center Ave., Janesville, (608) 741-3502, e.kuznacic@swwdb.org.

-- Online—A suite of online tools is available at MyNextMove.org/vets, where vets can enter their military experience to link to information about related civilian careers or training.

-- Gold Card—Information can be found at dol.gov/vets/goldcard.html. Or, contact Jones at the Rock County Job Center, 1900 Center Ave., Janesville, (608) 289-4689.

-- Walworth County—The Walworth County Job Center offers a veterans counselor by appointment. Veterans should go to the center’s resource room at 1000 E. Centralia St., Elkhorn, between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday to begin processing and at the same time make an appointment to meet the counselor.

-- Other services—Job centers deal with employment but refer veterans to other programs for health issues, home loans and other veterans benefits. County veterans services offices help veterans apply for a wide range of benefits. Rock County has offices in Beloit and the courthouse in Janesville. For information, call (608) 363-6280 or (608) 757-5552 or email rockcvso@co.rock.wi.us. In Walworth County, call (262) 741-4222 or email cjordan@co.walworth.wi.us.

Last updated: 6:56 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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