Dress code varied from suit and tie to T-shirt and jeans during Tuesday's job fair at Building 160 on the campus of the Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leavenworth.
But most, if not all, of the attendees were looking for the same thing ― an opportunity. Tuesday's event was the second such job fair hosted by the Leavenworth VA, and according to Charlotte Clemens, who works in the employment services department of the VA. And from the number of booths, at 40, to the number of attendees, she said the event had definitely grown.
“We just about doubled in size,” she said.
This perhaps because, or in spite of, what for some veterans is an improving job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percent of all veterans unemployed dropped slightly between February 2012 and 2013, from 7 percent to 6.9 percent. The U.S. population as a whole saw unemployment fall from 8.6 to 7.9 percent over that same period.
But those kinds of improvements were not across the board ― the youngest veterans, those from the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, experienced an increase in the rates of unemployment, jumping from 7.6 to 9.4 percent between February 2012 and 2013, according to the BLS.
For Army Capt. Sarah Scriven, the transition from active duty to civilian life had yet to officially begin, scheduled to start this summer. She said, though, that she came to the fair Tuesday to get a head start on what she knew could be a challenging process for young vets.
“It's a matter of timing and knowing where to look and what places to ask,” she said. “ I'm weighing my options and trying to get a feel for what's available.”
Frank Piper, the chief of the Domiciliary for the VA, said many active-duty service members adjust well to their new civilian surroundings by beginning to further their education and fit their skills into a new career out of uniform.
However, “there are some that maybe their military job doesn't lend itself directly into
the civilian job sector,” he said, like tank operators or infantrymen. “They have to refocus and retrain themselves into a marketable job.”
Piper said the VA offers both vocational rehabilitation and educational therapy services to help those veterans get on their feet. But those who struggle might find themselves at the VA's 200-bed Domiciliary, which houses those veterans with chronic physical and mental illnesses in addition to homeless veterans.
As of January 2012, there were an estimated 62,619 homeless veterans in the United States, according to a point-in-time count by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
That number represents a 7.2-percent decline over the previous count and a 17 percent decline since 2009. Piper said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has publicly stated a goal to end veteran homelessness entirely by 2015.
Page 2 of 2 - In contrast to Clemens said many of the vets who stay at the domiciliary are trying to look for a job, though they might not always have the reliable transportation to go looking. So it's no coincidence that Tuesday's job fair was at the facility, the domiciliary in Building 160, where those veterans still striving to re-adjust live.
“We figured well, since we've got a captive audience with our veterans here, and many of them are looking for work, this would be really a good opportunity,” Piper said. “An opportunity for the employers in the community to come out and show their support as well as picking up some pretty good, qualified candidates.”
Piper said even if a veteran's specific skillset doesn't necessarily translate well to the private job market, most members of the military do share some marketable qualities.
“You've got somebody who has developed in many cases reliability and both leadership qualities as well as qualities that would indicate someone who can follow direction or guidance,” he said. “Having come from a military background kind of prepares folks for positions where they have to be responsible in engaging with the public.”
Danny Storm agreed. Now 64, he said he was in the Navy in 1968 through 1972 and was at the fair Tuesday looking for a job to tide him over until he was ready for retirement. Though looking can sometimes be disheartening, he advised younger veterans not to give up.
“The fear is that you can't get a job,” he said. “You can get a job.”