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Veterans face battles in civilian workforce


Yuma-The unemployment rate among veterans is high compared to the general public.

Despite the training and job skills acquired in the military, some former service members have a hard time finding work as civilians.

27-year old Jose Reyes, a former Marine stationed at Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma worked in administration as a bookkeeper and customer service representative working with military personnel.

Upon completing his service, Reyes found himself unemployed for about a year. The skills he acquired weren’t enough.

"I applied to local jobs," Reyes said. " It would be like McDonalds, Sam's Club, the movie theater, mainly all the restaurants.”

41-year old Jesse Ramirez served in the Marines and U.S. Army National Guard as a helicopter pilot and mechanic.

He was also part of the helicopter squadron responsible for transporting former president Bill Clinton.

Ramirez says he hoped to find work in the aviation industry but despite his resume he could only get contract work.

“It was frustrating at times, the contract is over and you have to pick up and go somewhere else," Ramirez said. "While you are working the contract you always have to be aware of what other jobs are going to be available."

The experience of these two veterans resonates for thousands of former military service members in the nation.

They’re finding the skills, experience and accomplishments they gained serving their country aren’t clearly translating to potential civilian employees.

That’s what happened to Jose Reyes.

“The military lingo cannot be used too much on the resumes because they look at that and they look at it as jargon," he said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one million men and women are expected to transition out of the military and into the civilian workforce in the next four years.

Yuma Private Industry Council veteran employment representative John Dewitt said most of the concerns veterans have is trying to get the same job that they were doing in the military.

"They are expecting they have a higher pay rate out, something that compares to what they are doing in the military. You have a variety of different categories and certain benefits that come along with that package," Dewitt said. "Once you leave active duty and you no longer have those benefits and you try to compare it with some of the locations here in the private sector, it is pretty hard to meet that particular pay scale.”

In 2013, the unemployment rate for all veterans was more than 6.5 percent, but for post 9/11 veterans, that number jumps to more than 9 percent.

President Barack Obama began accelerating the hiring of veterans about five years ago by giving them preference for government jobs and challenging businesses to commit to hire or provide training to unemployed veterans.

He also unveiled a solar job initiative to equip thousands of veterans with the proper skills needed in the renewable energy industry.

Recently Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake introduced a bill that’ll require the Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security to recruit and expedite the hiring of veterans.

The Republican senators say understaffed ports of entries along the U.S. Mexico can provide the much needed jobs for veterans.

But these programs are a hit and miss for veterans. Reyes and Ramirez took matters into their own hands.  Reyes found a job through a local VA job service.

He is now working as a member service representative at Convey Health solutions, a health care and technology solutions provider.

Jesse Ramirez found a work in a familiar environment. He’s now an intern at MCAS Yuma.

Both men went back to school but Reyes dropped out for financial reasons.

Ramirez is studying engineering. He says veterans need to be persistent.

"Just don’t get discouraged, keep looking," he said. "It’s better to start looking when you have a job than when you don’t have a job.”