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Veterans Face Unemployment Crisis

Aired July 7, 2012 - 09:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, HOST: Good morning, everyone. I'm Christine Romans. Welcome to this special Independence Day weekend edition of YOUR BOTTOM LINE.

When America went to war, they took the job. Now they are looking for the next mission and we don't have anything for them. They are veterans facing an unemployment crisis.

More than 2 million men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. We'll take you from the battlefield to the office.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what? This suit right here could easily be camouflage.

ROMANS: They are coming home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blood brothers through and through. We've seen a lot.

ROMANS: And healing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We find therapy in different things. It's just amazing where you can find it at.


ROMANS: From the line of fire to the unemployment line. Last year nearly one in three veterans in the 18 to 24 age group were out of work, this is according to the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee. That problem is only going to get worse as thousands of soldiers return from the war in Afghanistan over the next two years. Are companies really doing all they can to hire veterans? Is something else at play here? We sent CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr to Detroit to the biggest job fair in the country for veterans.


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sign says it all, start your job search here. Employers from around the country came to Detroit saying they are ready to hire veterans.

We met 28-year-old Navy vet Luke Marang.

NICK MARANG: I've looked around for a job, I would say, for the past six months maybe. And I haven't gotten lucky. So it's pretty rough.

STARR (on camera): Most of your buddies looking for work?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I probably know more without a job than I do with a job.

STARR (voice-over): Young veterans like Luke, who have served since 9/11, had an unemployment rate of over 29 percent last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was a waiter for three years, so that was 2.65 plus some tips. Sometimes I didn't even make seven bucks an hour.

STARR: Captain Joshua Stone of the Ohio National Guard says some employers don't want to hire guard troops.

CAPT. JOSHUA STONE: One of the things I'm constantly hearing is, I don't want to train somebody up and then have them leave me for a year.

STARR: To a large extent, it's still the economy. There are 20,000 jobs available here at this veterans event. And not just in Michigan, but all across the country, all places where the recession has hit hard.

Some are trying to escape low wage jobs. Army Specialist Charlie's Tuckey of the Michigan National Guard served in Afghanistan.

SPEC. CHARLES TUCKEY, MICHIGAN NATIONAL GUARD: There's a lot of people looking for work. I myself had a factory job now for the last six months. But it's not going anywhere. I'm only making 9.50 an hour.

STARR: General Motors says it came here with 900 jobs to fill, and it's targeting qualified veterans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're looking at it from salaried employees to hourly employees in the plants to additional things. We can go look at dealerships, go look at suppliers.

STARR: For Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, the veterans unemployment crisis hit home when he visited Afghanistan and learned a third of his National Guard troops there didn't have civilian jobs. He insists things are turning around.

GOV. RICK SNYDER (R ),MICHIGAN: We have 80,000 open jobs in Michigan. At the same time we have eight and a half percent unemployment. And many of these people looking for jobs are veterans.

STARR: But many employers need workers with high-tech skills or advanced education. So for veterans like Luke Marang, the reality of unemployment is still everywhere he looks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From Washington, I would just like to feel like they actually care. I mean, at like -- at least give the illusion. I don't even see that.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: CNN's Barbara Starr joins me now.

Barbara, this presidential election is all about jobs. Michigan is a key swing state, a state that benefited from the auto bailout. So many people out of work. What are employers saying about the economy?

STARR: Well, you know, as we went through the job fair, Christine, a lot of employers said they do have jobs to fill. So, we went back to General Motors to learn a little bit more company specific what did they have in mind of the types of jobs they want to fill. Have a listen.


DOUG WAITE, PRESIDENT, GENERAL MOTORS AFFINITY GROUP: We're looking for engineers, technicians and production jobs. And we have all those available. And, of course, military veterans well trained in those areas are able to apply those skills walking through our door.

STARR: So, the appeal of the veterans is they are disciplined. They have a lot of very positive work ethic, but when you talk to the employers and when you talk to the veterans there's a fundamental mismatch. The veterans, they need the skills, the job training, the advanced education for the job market that is increasingly high-tech that employers are looking to fill. That's the way they believe the veterans can escape the minimum wage rut.

And a lot of them like Luke Marang say they are still living in Detroit neighborhoods, with burned-out houses, buses that aren't running and a lot of diminishing hope that they can really move ahead.

ROMANS: And getting those skills, of course, you want to get an education to do that. And that's what the G.I. bill is supposed to do, Barbara, widely credited with helping to expand the middle class in America by subsidizing veteran education. But now it seems to have become a cash cow for for-profit schools who are really raking in taxpayer dollars. Between 2009 and 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs paid out more than $4 billion for tuition and fees. For-profit schools raked in 37 percent of those funds but they only educated 25 percent of veterans. It's bad news for veterans who had hoped to graduate with better job prospects, but are ending up in debt anyway. Here is President Obama in April on a visit to Fort Stewart, Georgia.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sometimes you're dealing with folks who aren't interested in helping you. They are not interested in helping you find the best program. They are interested in getting the money. They don't care about you. They care about the cash.


ROMANS: Barbara, has this bill become a disappointment for vets just as they are trying to get more education to get the right job? STARR: Well, it is making it tougher for them, isn't it? What a tragedy that people are making money of veterans unemployment in this way. The Veterans Affairs Department has thought for some time that veterans are inappropriately being steered to these for-profit schools just for financial motive. But there's been a victory.

The number of state attorneys general sued a very key Website, and said that it was using deceptive practices to steer veterans to for-profit schools. There has now been a settlement in this crucial case.

And that Website, now taken away from the company under the agreement it will be run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. And they feel that this will be a key step in helping veterans get steered to what is the best education opportunity for them, not what's the best financial motive for some of these for-profit schools, Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Barbara Starr, thanks so much for that report, Barbara.

Coming up next, rebuilding Wall Street one veteran at a time. Plus later, what assistance is the government providing for those veterans dealing with posttraumatic stress disorder.

We'll speak to CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) anybody can write a memo, anybody can send a fax, not everybody can turn around and make a life and death decision without blinking an eye and then follow it through to the end.


ROMANS: That was Marine Corps reservist Jack Keck (ph). His military skills helped him find a place in the civilian workforce with Prudential Financial. But for many soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan making that transition is a challenge.


ROMANS: Fred Salin (ph) and Mike Stygerwall (ph) flew together in the Air Force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blood brothers through and through. We've seen -- we've seen a lot.

ROMANS: Surviving a rocket fire ambush of their aircraft over Baghdad in 2006.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The airplane was put into a pretty uncontrollable situation and fortunately my buddy here was able to recover the airplane. ROMANS: Six years later they are working together on Wall Street trading securities for Drexel Hamilton. Out of the war zone they trained with the Wall Street War Fighters Foundation, a nonprofit helping in the move from a military career to finance. Drexel is one of several companies working with the war fighters to hire disabled vets.

BEN DOWNING, VICE PRESIDENT OF CAPITAL MARKETS, DREXEL HAMILTON: You know what, this suit right here because this would be camouflage.

ROMANS: Ben Downing heard about the program while undergoing physical therapy. He was injured during his time in Iraq for the National Guard. Since January he's been a V.P. of Capital Markets.

DOWNING: I had no experience in financial services other than going to my ATM machine, but I'd had a desire to do it.

ROMANS: In 2011 there were 81,000 post 9/11 veterans in finance and military skills are proving marketable on Wall Street.

JAMES CAHILL, PRESIDENT, DREXDEL HAMILTON: I have to tell you, I've been around all kinds of professionals from some of the finest universities in the nation and I'll put my people up against them. Wall Street is at times very stressful. But we have people who did 450 to 500 combat missions. And so, they are able to handle stress probably better than most.

DOWNING: Too often the veterans are pigeonholed into titles that civilian employers see because they don't understand the scope of the responsibilities that you have. We have the opportunity to excel or perform, that's where the military skill set comes in.

ROMANS: The injuries may not be visible for some disabled vets. But when it comes to a job, it's not about a handout, but a hand up.

CAL QUINN, U.S. NAVY VETERAN: To give a disabled veteran the capacity to earn on his or her own their own paycheck, and let them take home with that paycheck their dignity as well, that's something more. That's what we're doing here.


ROMANS: Drexel Hamilton was founded by Vietnam veteran and two time Purple Heart recipient Lawrence Doll. He still has shrapnel in both legs, by the way. He co-founded the War Fighters with General Peter Pace. His goal is to train 24 disabled veterans a years since War Fighters began in 2008, 20 plus veterans have been hired by brokerage firms and banks including Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup. For more information on the Wall Street War Fighters you can head to their website,

There are also veterans creating jobs for themselves by becoming entrepreneurs. They're called vetrepreneurs. Former Army sergeant and Purple Heart recipient Adam Burke's business idea was also a healing one helping him and other veterans suffering from posttraumatic distress disorder. Now his story from our colleagues at CNN Money.


SGT. ADAM BURKE, PURPLE HEART RECIPIENT: This crop here, we grow this. And we use that to feed the veterans families. You know, it saves them on their cost of living and food bills and stuff and, you know, gives them some fresh vegetables, something to eat.

The farm started with an idea I came up with that we needed to help our veterans coming back to be able to feed themselves and to be able to support their family financially. And then in the same time they are getting the horticulture therapy they need to help heal their wounds such as PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.

PATRICK SANDERS, VETERAN: I -- well, for the longest time before I came out here I lost it -- I lost drive. I couldn't really get a job in the civilian world. It was just hard to readjust getting back in and waiting for my disability rating. And not trying to -- not trying to get a job.

CHARRON PENROD, WIFE OF PATRICK SANDERS: It's been really wonderful watching my husband come around and really become a different person. I think it's given him a new sense of purpose, more drive. And they each have their own story to tell. And it's kind of nice at times for them to get somebody else's perspective and learn, you know, that somebody else may be suffering just a little bit more than even they are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was able to come off my medication as far as posttraumatic stress disorder and a lot of the meds I was taking for the traumatic brain injury. A lot of my guys will tell you the same thing, their -- their blood pressure has lowered and they've come off a lot of their meds as well.

FRANK WADE, VETERAN: I'm getting better sleep at night, going to bed. And I actually feel like I'm actually doing something and feeling like I'm actually useful now.

Before I didn't want to wake up for a job, didn't want to go to work. And now probably 90 percent of the time I'm getting up before my alarm goes off.

BURKE: We find therapy in different things. And it's just amazing where you can find it at, it's -- each person can find it, whether it's in farming or gardening with blueberries or vegetables. Some of the guys work with fish. And some like the poultry.

SHAUN VALDIVIA, VETERAN: My chicken, my poultry here, that's my -- kind of my favorite. Being in combat, you're always go, go, go. Just ready to go. And sitting at home just like -- just waiting for something to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't make the guys do anything. But every man, every woman in uniform that comes back, they have earned their right to have one opportunity in life to make the most out of it. And that's what we're providing, that opportunity to have success in life.


ROMANS: Coming up next, soldiers leave war behind, but war doesn't always leave them. More on the struggles of soldiers coming home to battle PTSD. And later, from the battlefields of the corner office, some of the top CEOs in America also have another title, veteran. We'll tell you who they are when we return.


ROMANS: There is a ton of research, reports with numbers out on PTSD, but we want to go behind all these statistics.

I am joined now by CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence, who's also a Naval Reserve veteran.

Chris, you did on specials on veterans and PTSD, and you know, you don't want to feed any stereotypes about veterans with this condition, we want to be sensitive to that. Veterans we profiled are able to work. They work a job, they've got counseling, they are handling it and learning how to heal from it. I have a question for you, though. We're talking about the prevalence after 10 long years of war of PTSD.

Is it different this time than previous wars? When you think of World War II, my grandfather for example pinned down at Anzio, weeks being just bombarded on the beach. These guys had nowhere to go. You look at Vietnam with a jammed M-16 in the jungle. You don't know who's coming out of the tall grasses. I mean, is it different this time?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is different in two ways, Christine.

One is some of these traumatic brain injuries that some of the troops are suffering. They would have been killed in previous wars. So in previous wars, you didn't have the medical technology, and most importantly, you didn't have it quickly enough. These troops are getting medical attention so quickly that they're surviving a lot of very serious brain injuries that in the past would have just killed them on the battlefield.

Two, you've got a much more longer, sustained deployment. So instead of going to war for a year and then re-integrating back into society, you're going to war for a year, you're back for a year, you're going to war for a year, you're back for a year. And for some of these troops, that's continuing over four to five deployments.

ROMANS: Is the government taking care of it? Are they doing enough to make sure people are getting the help they need with traumatic brain injury and PTSD when they come home?

LAWRENCE: We made some calls and asked around and found that actually since 2009, the VA's budget, specifically for mental health issues, has gone up about 40 percent. And in this latest appropriation, the House appropriated the VA about $35 million more, specifically to deal with problems like these. The VA has launched this new online initiative that uses real-life testimonials to sort of breakthrough that stigma of suck it up and get tough, and uses real-life soldiers who have suffered from PTSD and then reintegrated back into their communities to try to get that message across.

But you know, there have been some setbacks as well. You know, a lot of people are complaining about a new Army policy that really restricts the number of service dogs that can be, you know, housed on base. A lot of vets have said that being assigned a service dog has really helped them to sort of adapt and start to reintegrate. But because a dog mauled a little boy in Kentucky, the Army has really made that a much stricter policy now. Some people are fighting to loosen that a bit.

ROMANS: You know, you're someone who's made this transition, this move back and forth, and you know that the communication's really important here when you're going from the military to the job interview in particular. But also, you have to speak the language of the office, not the military, when you're in a job interview, don't you?

LAWRENCE: You have to fit in with the corporate culture anywhere you go, Christine. And the one thing about the military is, family is so important in the military. It's how a lot of people bond in the military. They talk about their husbands, their wives, their children, their families. Well, in an interview situation, an employer may not want to hear anything about your family, because to him, he's thinking, well, family just means that's time that's going to take you away from your job and your office.

Another thing that the military does is it really does not put a premium on pumping yourself up, you know, saying look at me, look what a great job I'm doing. It's about the team, it's about fitting in. Well, in the corporate world, in the civilian world, especially in an interview, you've got to show how you stood out, what you contributed, how you're the best candidate. So, that can be a bit of a culture shock from people coming from the military to the civilian world.

ROMANS: We heard one veteran told us, you know -- or somebody who hires and trains veterans says you have to leave the yes, ma'am, no, ma'am, in the military --


ROMANS: -- and be very forceful and say this is what I can do for you and how I can help you build your bottom line, because that's really what it's all about in the corporate world.

LAWRENCE: It's great advice.

ROMANS: Chris, thanks so much. Really appreciate it. Have a great weekend.

LAWRENCE: You, too. ROMANS: Next, we talk to one Navy veteran who went on his first job interview in 47 years. How he found his new job, the way he found that new job is going to surprise you.


ROMANS: Our next story takes the help wanted sign to the next level. Some inspiration here for the men and women who have served us in Iraq and Afghanistan who are coming home.


ROMANS (voice-over): For Dave Devanzo to find a job, all it took was a sign.

DAVE DEVANZO, U.S. NAVY (RET.): I had been driving past that Modern sign probably before I moved out here 12 years ago, for probably about 18 years before that.

ROMANS: This billboard off I-95 out of Philadelphia. Construction equipment company Modern Group wants to hire people just like him, veterans. He retired from the Navy in August after 29 years.

DEVANZO: It was a bit of a shock, I think, for me. I put all the applications out, all the work I had done, put my feelers out there and got little response, very little response. So I saw the sign out front and I called the HR department, sent them my stuff, and the rest is history.

ROMANS: And that's what led him to a job as a shop technician here.

DEVANZO: I will tell you this, my first ever job interview, and I'm 47 years right now, happened at Modern Group. So, it was a change, definitely a change.

ROMANS: Dozens of applications poured in to Dave Griffith, Modern's president and CEO.

DAVID GRIFFITH, MODERN PRES. & CEO: You can imagine the visibility that that sign gets.

ROMANS: He's hired 27 veterans and reservists from all branches of the military.

GRIFFITH: They tend to be more disciplined, more focused, more sensitive to the customer. I think there is a great attention to detail for folks coming out of the military.

JASON BLAIR, U.S. NAVY (RET.): He's shown me quite a few things around here.

JERRY MILLER, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): We've got to help each other out. We're all on the same team, and inevitably, our mission is to get the entire job done and keep this company rolling.

ROMANS: There's a huge push to hire more veterans. Some 40 major U.S. companies have pledged more than 100,000 jobs to veterans by 2020, including Time Warner, the parent company of CNN. Already this year, 12,000-plus vets have been hired. The fields that have been hiring veterans? Government, health care, tech and manufacturing.

GRIFFITH: I feel very strongly as a CEO that our obligation is to honor that service. If we can do that in such a way that we can hire these young men and women and bring them on board, and also do good for our company and our stakeholders, I can't imagine why I wouldn't do that.

DEVANZO: What we deal with in the military is nothing more than really a snapshot of society anyway, so coming here, working with these guys here, it's just, I think it's a perfect transition.


ROMANS: Corporate America has long tapped the talent of leaders who began their careers in the U.S. military. CNN Money and "Fortune" put together this gallery of top business leaders who credit their military experience with propelling them to the top of Fortune 500. You can read more about their success stories by going to

Thank you again to all the brave men and women who have served our country.

If you're a veteran coming home and want to share your story with us, we'd love to hear from you. Find us on Facebook and Twitter. Our handle is CNNbottomline. My handle is @christineromans.

Back now to "CNN SATURDAY" for the latest headlines.

Have a great Independence Day weekend, everyone.