Reporting Bill Hudson
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Inside Richfield’s American Legion club, President Obama was on the television speaking to the crowd at the legion’s national convention in Minneapolis. Sitting around the tables and bar, club members were glued to his every word.
Applause rang out when they heard Obama proclaim, “For the sake of our vets and the sake of our economy, we need these veterans working.”
It was about 25 minutes into his speech when the president’s words struck a sensitive nerve. That’s when he brought up the challenge of getting 9/11-era veterans back to work. Unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan war vets hovers around 23 percent, more than twice the national average.
“These kids are going back two, three, maybe four times. And boy, that’s gotta wear on you,” bartender Steve Sawyer said.
He was talking about the repeated deployments for a number of servicemen and servicewomen. Multiple tours of duty is one of the possible causes for the high unemployment rate among veterans.
Three vets who understand the strains and frustrations of being jobless — Nate Webber, Barry Widell and Chris Magnan — were attending their weekly veteran’s networking group meeting at the Anoka County Workforce Center in Blaine.
“It is, it is, it’s very frustrating,” Magnan said.
He’s an unemployed veteran who has been out of work since June 2010.
Every Tuesday, he and about 40 other veterans will meet at the center and exchange ideas, frustrations and job leads.
Fellow veteran, Widell, has been without a job since January of this year.
“Very few of us have been here for under a year. But a lot of us guys are out there waiting. We just want something to do,” he said.
The president’s pitch for employer tax credits, which would give returning and wounded vets preferential hiring, could put people like Webber back to work. He served tours in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm and returned home only to begin battles with a brain tumor.
“Being a vet with PTSD, and complications from coming back, (employers) don’t see what you’ve gone through,” Webber said.
That’s the toughest part, his fellow veterans say, is getting employers to understand the challenges they’ve faced. But it’s also one of their greatest attributes. Veterans say they are dedicated and disciplined, able to both take orders and hand them out.
“We’re just looking for the opportunity to prove that, and asking for the opportunity to prove to them,” Magnan said.
That’s apparently the whole idea behind President Obama’s pitch — for those who’ve sacrificed for the sake of country, it’s now time for employers to come to their aid.
“We’ve been spit and polished for awhile, we’ve got it down,” Widell said.