By Courtney Jacquin
Post-9/11 veterans exiting the military have more resources for finding employment and returning to civilian life compared to previous wars, but it’s still not an easy transition.
With the U.S. involved in two simultaneous wars, Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2003-2009 and War in Afghanistan from 2001 to present, approximately 2.4 million soldiers have served in at least on of the conflicts. That mixed with military budget cuts lead to more recent veterans than ever, all trying to lead normal, post-military lives.
“In a lot of ways being in the military is very easy,” said Joe Franzese, a Warriors to Work specialist for the North Central region for Wounded Warrior Project. “Once you get into the swing of things, it’s a very easy way of life.You have one job and that’s it.”
But as veterans try to immerse themselves into post-military life, there are plenty of issues they can encounter. This is where Franzese and the Wounded Warrior Project try to help.
According to the Social Impact Research Center, Illinois has the fourth-highest unemployment rate for new veterans. Seven percent live below the poverty line and about one-third earn less than $20,000 a year. Fifty-four percent of the new veterans in Illinois are in their 20s or younger.
According to Franzese, 60 percent of the veterans he works with are in their early 30s with families with the other 40 percent in their early 20s.
“Twenty-three is a good average number,” Franzese said. “They want to go to school or they want part-time employment.”
Franzese works with vets first-hand to find employment opportunities as well as helping these men and women dress, speak and be prepared for interviews and beyond.
After graduating from DePaul University in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and media, Franzese began working with Warrior to Warrior before taking his new position with the Wounded Warrior Project.
“You feel like Billy Madison or something,” Franzese said of attending College of DuPage just weeks after leaving the military.
Although the Wounded Warrior Project works specifically with soldiers who were wounded in some way, it’s not just the wounded veterans who are struggling.
Since starting his new position with Wounded Warrior Project, Franzese has placed 10 veterans in new employment opportunities in the last four months across the six Midwestern states, including Illinois, where he works. The Warriors to Work program as a whole has placed more than 1,700 in three years.
Despite the high levels of unemployment, veterans are fortunate to have more benefits than ever coming out of the military today, according to Franzese, including the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
“There’s a lot more support than ever,” Franzese said. “We have a lot more benefits now than guys coming home from World War II, Vietnam, Korea … just less media coverage I guess.”
“Nowadays, it feels like the war is going on but nobody back home even realizes it,” Franzese said. “There was a statement by a Marine — the United States Military is at war, the rest of the country is at the mall.”