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Solon student looks at barriers to employment of local veterans

Intern looks at hiring those who served
“Although it doesn’t seem apparent at times, we are trying to take the right steps in hiring vets.” – Clayton Olson

SOLON– The state of Iowa in general, and Johnson County in particular, is doing a good job when it comes to hiring veterans.
More needs to be done, according to Clayton Olson.
The Solon High School senior researched the issue this past summer while working as an intern for Johnson County Supervisor Terrance Neuzil. Olson was looking for an internship opportunity and found three options to choose from: Rockwell Collins (he plans on pursuing engineering in college), working for Neuzil, and a local pharmacy. Deciding that education is lacking in high school about local government, Olson decided the best way to learn about it, “was to experience it and get to know what’s going on.”
Olson attended several supervisor meetings and worked their booth at the Johnson County Fair in addition to tackling a special project looking at barriers to veteran employment.
Olson said a previous intern had started a similar project, and Neuzil felt it would be a good challenge. The high number of unemployed veterans is a national issue, said Olson, and he wanted to find out what the state of Iowa and Johnson County are doing about it.
He crafted 11 questions for county department heads suggested by Neuzil, compiled their answers and gave a brief presentation to the board of supervisors in November. Olson said he didn’t quite know what to expect in terms of responses, but found they were often similar from respondent to respondent. “They were all were pro-veteran,” he noted.
Olson sent his questions to Gary Boseneller (director of veterans affairs and Air Force vet), Mike Hensch (administrator, Johnson County Medical Examiner’s Department, Navy vet), Lora Shramek (administrator, Human Resources Department), R.J. Moore (assistant administrator, Planning and Zoning, Army vet), Maj. Steve Dolezal (Johnson County sheriff’s office), and Steve Spenler (director, Johnson County Ambulance Service (JCAS)). Hensch and Moore are also on the County Veterans Affairs Commission, chaired by Boseneller.
The department heads found three common obstacles facing veterans seeking civilian employment: difficulty in civilian employers transferring military skills to their openings, veterans’ resumes containing lots of military jargon (abbreviations, Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) numbers, military terminology, etc.) and a negative perception of veterans affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and/or disabilities.
PTSD and/or TBI affect more than a half-million veterans, according to American Legion estimates.
Hensch pointed out there is “a lack of understanding on the part of employers as to how military training, skills and personal discipline are transferrable and desirable in the civilian workforce.”
“Veterans with TBI and PTSD have special needs that may require accommodation from employers,” he added. “Employers may speak of patriotism and appreciation of veterans, but do not invest effort and money into veteran-related needs and issues.”
“I’m not sure the private sector understands that military skills are transferable, and that successful military service proves that a veteran is a trainable individual,” said Moore.
“It is difficult to transition from military to civilian life,” Shramek said, noting some veterans are not well prepared to enter the workforce, and that some employers are afraid of absences and possible mental issues.
Hensch agreed with Shramek, saying, “the military does not prepare service members for their transition to civilian life. As a result, the new veteran may lack the contemporary skills needed to successfully search for civilian employment.”
Looking at the advantages to hiring a veteran, Boseneller listed tax breaks, vets being potentially able to use their GI Bill benefits for additional job training, and pointed out, “vets are trainable and have dealt with adversity.”
Major Dolezal added “veterans have been trained in teamwork and leadership skills and know how to perform under pressure.”
Hensch listed many advantages to hiring vets, including: personal discipline, responsibility and accountability; a demonstrated ability to show up to work and on time; a demonstrated ability to work in a diverse work environment and a proven ability to work as a team member. “Active duty military personnel assume levels of responsibility and authority that are out of proportion to the service member’s age (compared to the civilian world),” Hensch said.
Olson pointed out in his presentation to the board of supervisors the Iowa Code states there is a mandatory preference in public service for a veteran over other candidates, assuming the veteran is not otherwise more qualified.
Olson said he could not find any similar precedents for private sector hiring.
During Olson’s presentation, Neuzil noted many counties across the nation are actively recruiting vets, particularly for emergency response through Emergency Medical Services (EMS) agencies, such as Johnson County Ambulance Service.
In his answers, Spenler did state a veteran with medical skills would be valuable in his operation. Dolezal noted some veterans are familiar with equipment and tactics utilized by the sheriff’s office, making them desirable. Echoing Moore, Neuzil said, “if equal, pick a veteran.”
Supervisor Janelle Rettig reiterated the difficulties in translating military experience to the civilian world. “We have to teach them to write in English instead of military English,” she said. “There are a lot of people coming home, and we need to get them back to work,” she added.
From his experience in working on the project, Olson decided, “Iowa and especially Johnson County are doing an excellent job compared to other parts of the country,” and said it’s now up to the board to decide what, if anything, to do to increase the hiring of veterans. He acknowledged the efforts from higher levels of government to promote hiring veterans.
Iowa Governor Terry Branstad urged legislators to pass the “Home Base Act,” which would fully exempt military pensions from state income tax, a move made already by Florida, Texas, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
Also, the act would automatically grant in-state tuition to vets and their families at community colleges (the state universities already have such a policy). Additionally, the act would direct Iowa’s occupational licensing boards to allow credit for military training and experience. “Our veterans have risked their lives defending our freedom,” Branstad said. “To show our gratitude, let’s make Iowa the leader in respect, support and opportunity for veterans.” Branstad made his comments during the annual condition of the state address in January.
One private sector initiative is the “Show Your Stripes” campaign (www.showyourstripes.org) by iHeart Radio, part of Clear Channel in cooperation with Military.com and Monster.com and endorsed by Michelle Obama.
“There are a lot of initiatives with the same goal,” Olson said, “and that’s to hire vets.” He said more education for employers, and helping vets to write better resumes would be a good step in addition to, “making it clear that any issues (a vet may have) wouldn’t be a detriment to their work.”
He said doing the study gave him a different perspective. “Clearly there’s still some problems to deal with, but we’re on the right track.” With his dad, uncles, grandfather and several others in his family being vets, Olson said he set out with a pro-veteran outlook.
“Although it doesn’t seem apparent at times, we are trying to take the right steps in hiring vets,” he said.