Too often, Utah vets find their homecoming a jobless one

Williams returned home in 2006, and though he felt his credentials were strong, he had trouble landing another job in the hospice field.

He wasn't alone.

Thousands of Utah veterans have returned from service overseas, only to be greeted by unemployment at home. Nationwide, veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were 30 percent more likely to be unemployed in 2008 than their civilian counterparts, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And although programs abound to help veterans find work, the battle is steeply uphill.

Williams returned home from Germany sobered by what he had seen. These days, he is inclined to believe that it was for the best that he couldn't find a job in his former field of hospice care.

"It seems that it was not meant to be," he said. "I don't think I would have done a good job anyway."

Williams was unemployed for eight months before he found a new niche: The retired Army officer helps others find work as a veterans representative for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Once again, he has come into a field where business is bleakly brisk. And some of those who he served with in Germany are now his clients.

"There is one guy -- a sergeant first class from my medical unit -- I can't say enough good things about this man," Williams said. "On Tuesday night he came to me and said, 'Oh, by the way, I'll probably be calling you soon.' Out of the clear blue, he got laid off this week. I'm seeing more and more of that."

Garth Anderson, a veterans representative at the state Workforce Services office in Midvale, said that some veterans give up the search for work and return to the military.

"Especially right now, there just aren't so many opportunities out there as there usually are," said Anderson, who has open files on more than 100 unemployed or under-employed veterans at his office.

Utah Department of Veterans Affairs director Terry Schow said veterans may be hard-working, dependable and trustworthy, but they often suffer from a competitive disadvantage when fighting for work with civilian peers.

"You take three guys, after high school one joins the military, one goes to college and one goes off to work," Schow said. "At the end of four years, they're all in different places. One has a college education. One has four years in his field. And one has gone off to serve his country at war. We may honor that guy's service, but those other two guys have a leg up on him in a lot of ways."

With such disadvantages in mind, the state and federal government give preference to veterans when hiring. But since public sector employment accounts for just a small slice of the overall labor force, veterans advocates are pushing private employers to do more to help even the field.

Last year, the Army Reserve created the Employer Partnership Initiative to develop relationships with employers and associations. One recent enlistee: Utah-based Zions Bank, which on Friday will formalize its commitment to bring reservists into the fold of the 2,700-employee company.

Zions and the Army Reserve will jointly encourage employees to enlist in the reserve and departing reservists to pursue careers with the bank.

"For those who answer the call to serve, we want to do all we can to be supportive of them as employers," said Zions Executive Vice President Rob Brough. "If we're doing our part, everybody benefits. And hopefully, what we're doing will inspire others to follow."

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