Disabled army veteran Jerome Dorn is finally at peace with his life. After years of self-medication, his world turned around when he was diagnosed and treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Dorn’s challenge to readjust to civilian life is not unique. Evidence shows that transition for returning troops can be an uphill struggle, with higher rates of unemployment, homelessness and mental health issues compared to their civilian counterparts.
Veterans can find it difficult to get hired because some employers worry their skills do not translate to non-military work. There is also a stigma attached to combat stress.
Dorn, 60, who served in the marines in the 1970s and later spend eight years in the U.S army till the ‘80s, says he is still in contact with returning troops and knows just how difficult it can be for the current generation of veterans to find jobs.
“Most military jobs are combat related,” he says. “It’s difficult for troops to come back and find employment that will enable them to look after their families,” says Dorn, who is African-American.
Indeed, when theGrio asked him if there has been progress, he says” troops that are coming back are still facing the same problems.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the rate of unemployment for those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan was 12.1 percent in 2011 compared to the civilian rate of 8.7 percent.
Those hit the hardest from that group were young male veterans, in the 18-24 year-old-age group. The figure stood at 29.1 percent in 2011, compared to 17.6 for their non-veteran counterparts.
Though, according to new government figures published Tuesday the unemployment rate for military veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan has dropped to 7.6 percent.
These latest stats, nevertheless, have been greeted with cautious optimism. “If you look at a whole year, you’re going to get a more accurate picture than if you look at an individual month,” said Kevin Schmiegel , who is leading the U.S. Chamber of Commerce efforts to find jobs for veterans. “I think the data reflect that the picture hasn’t gotten better.”
It comes amid recent government initiatives to provide incentives for businesses to hire veterans. In November 2011, for instance, President Obama signed into law a bill that provides businesses that hire long-term unemployed veterans a tax credit of $5,600 per veteran.
It is not, nonetheless, just in the arena of finding jobs that veterans struggle. According to a joint homeless study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Veterans Affairs (2011) a disproportionately large number of the nation’s homeless are from the veteran population, especially ex-service members aged 18-30.
Dorn, who served in the Vietnam War, believes the majority of veterans are only equipped to readjust to civilian life after some form of counseling. “One day you are in the combat zone; then the next day you’re in downtown Atlanta.”
He says his life only got back on track after he was treated for PTSD, some 15 years after he left the army. After that it took him a further five years to obtain his full disability benefits. “Not only do you fight in the war, when you come back you have to fight for benefits.”
It seems that in some cases the challenges facing today’s returning military can even be compared with African-Americans who participated in the Second World War . Black service members distinguished themselves on the battlefield, only to meet with prejudice at home.
After the war, they faced the same obstacles and discrimination they had prior to the war. Essentially nothing changed until the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s-1960s.
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