Some returning Iraq war veterans are facing another battle at home: The fight to find a job. In fact, unemployment among young veterans is significantly higher than non-veterans in the same age group, mostly 22-24, and dramatically higher than the general population at large. This is frustrating from a moral standpoint, but also troubling from a practical one: Why aren't the skills taught in the military translating more easily into the private sector?
The reasons, no doubt, are complicated, but part of the solution might be found on the web. Consider Staff Sergeant Brian Teachey, who was recently profiled on the CBS Evening News. After thirteen years in the Marine Corps, and a tour in Iraq, he came home and couldn’t find a job. Nine months later, drowning in bills, he was evicted from his home. But hope finally came when he stumbled on an innovative networking site that links returning war veterans and employers who would love to hire them. He found a job in 48 hours and is beginning the process of getting his life back on track.
Hireahero.org was launched in January by Gulf War veteran and entreprener Dan Caulfield. (he’s been profiled many times by our sister publication, Inc.) Caulfield was determined to use the power of the internet to help veterans transition into the private sector, mostly by matching them with employers who want them, but also by helping them translate their military skills into private sector resume points. (He also makes a strong case that employers should be making more of an effort to hire veterans.) He's had some experience - he was the Managing Director of Helmets to Hardhats, a military transition program that helped over 65,000 military personnel find jobs in the construction industry. His latest effort hopes to leverage the power of social networking to help veterans find jobs in any industry.
He also seems like a pretty nice guy, as the CBS news feature shows.
Hireahero.org has many typical social networking features – users can create a profile, add photos, include their service information, job skills, etc – and add each other as buddies. Employers can post detailed job openings. But the best aspects of the site get the veterans off the web and back into the real world. One of my favorite features allows a user to plug in their zip code and find other nearby job seekers, terrific for encouraging a real world support network. It also identifies employers with specific jobs that might be found in their area. (The information shows up as clickable "dog tags" over a localized map. Quite cool.) The site also announces networking events, resume clinics and skills training opportunities as they occur.
Caulfield started hireahero.org with $500,000 of his own money; the site relies on donations and is seeking corporate sponsorships. Since their January launch, more than 600 companies have signed on, and more than 1,000 veterans have found work.
I’ve interviewed a lot of war veterans over the years, and their stories – survival, sacrifice, loss - are never easy to hear. I heard those stories in my own home: My father was a World War II combat veteran. He served, like thousands of others, in the segregated army. He showed up, did his duty, then came back to an America that wouldn’t let him vote. It added layer of horror to his tale that is hard to imagine today.
But my Dad - who grew up dirt poor, undereducated and with one, hard-working parent - also met another America, a compassionate one. This America presented itself in the form of the G.I. Bill, ground-breaking legislation that made it easy for veterans to go back to school. My Dad was able to roll up his sleeves and get both a law degree and masters of social work. Networking through friends, which seemed easier back in the day, he found meaningful work as a lawyer and executive at the Children’s Aid Society in New York. And, he was able to do all the things that people ought to be able to do when they do the right things – live in a nice home, support a wife and kid, and feel good about what he did all day. When I think of all the people, myself included, who were the beneficiaries of the freedom he fought for both abroad and at home, I'm amazed and proud.
But he got a lot of help.
If he were alive today, I'm sure that he would wish nothing less for our returning veterans and their communities. We all should.