Making the transition back to civilian life and the workplace has traditionally been a challenge for many veterans.
Throw in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression and times can get really tough.
Tim Brown of Oakwood knows that firsthand.
“It’s been pretty challenging, not having a degree and not having a lot of experience other than the Army,” said Brown, who was discharged from the U.S. Army in July 2011.
The good news for veterans is a flurry of new programs have been developed over the past couple of years — on top of what is already in place, such as the GI Bill — to help improve the jobless situation through retraining, education and other resources.
The Veteran Retraining Assistance Program is open to qualifying veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 who are unemployed at the time of the application. Veterans who are currently receiving unemployment benefits or are enrolled in a federal or state job training program do not qualify.
More than 45,000 veterans have applied and 29,532 have already been
accepted, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs data last week.
Also, Georgia is set to receive a $750,000 federal grant to help returning Army veterans find jobs. The grants are set to be implemented over the next two years.
Agency officials say the money will help pay for job training and placement services. Job-related outreach activities will also be expanded.
Similar federal grants will go to Texas, Illinois and North Carolina. The four states have large populations of Army veterans who claim unemployment and the states have been actively working with both the Labor Department and the Army to improve veterans’ access to the public workforce system.
Stephen McGruder, who works with veterans in his job at the Georgia Department of Labor’s Gainesville office, said he is trying to learn more about how that grant program will work.
“I haven’t seen anything specifically about that money,” he said. “But there other programs available,” including the state’s Workforce Investment program.
Christy Orr, adult learner and military outreach coordinator at Gainesville State College in Oakwood, said the college has had one student looking at VRAP, “but I have yet to hear back from him.”
“One of the things we’re trying to find out is how to interact with that program,” said Chaudron Gille, associate vice president for academic affairs.
The college, which has developed the Center for Adult Learners and Military, is part of the University System of Georgia’s “Soldiers to Scholars” consortium, which helps veterans, including reservists, use education as the bridge back to civilian life.
“Of course, (veterans) would like to go into the workforce, but they’re not finding the jobs available,” Orr said.
“The wonderful thing we’ve been able to do with Soldiers to Scholars and the federal money is to provide (faculty) training,” she said. “We have begun the evaluation process for our military students who are coming back.”
Part of that process is to determine what military credit can be turned into college credit.
McGruder, a retired veteran himself, said a lot of veterans need career guidance.
“I track their progress for six months to make sure they are aware of all the educational benefits that’s available to them,” such as VRAP and the GI Bill, he said.
“We talk about short-term goals and (getting) employment, but we also talk about career choices and directions,” McGruder said.
Christopher Huss, who recently returned from basic training with the Georgia Army National Guard, is looking for work.
“I’m telling you, it’s hard,” said the Flowery Branch resident and West Hall High School graduate. “I’m back to a one-weekend-a-month type deal and having trouble finding work.”
He is considering taking classes at Lanier Technical College.
“I don’t know all the resources I have just yet,” Huss said. “I’m still new (to the experience).”
For Brown, the next step after the military was a no-brainer.
“Basically, as soon as you get out, your best bet is to go to school and earn your degree,” he said. “Then, you actually stand a better chance of getting a job.”
He plans to begin work on his bachelor’s degree in January through the University of North Georgia, the new name for the consolidated Gainesville State and North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega. He’s considering computer science or computer technology.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.