Supporting unemployed veterans

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash.- State lawmakers are trying to find a way to bring the veteran unemployment numbers down. According to the Washington Employment Security Department, as of 2013, the unemployment rate for veterans in Spokane County is 7.9% with a 3.3% margin of error. In Washington state overall, the unemployment rate for veterans is 7.1%.

KHQ spoke with Eric Barnes, a veteran and transition coach with the Washington National Guard who helps veterans, members of the Guard and the Reserve find civilian jobs. He and his partners helped find jobs for 156 service members in 2014, but Barnes says there are a number of different barriers that can stand in the way when veterans enter the civilian workforce.

Housing and transportation are factors, but explaining what their skill set is to hiring managers is a big issue. Barnes says veterans need to 'do a good job of explaining our skill sets and explaining our skill sets in non-military language so that the civilian sector and the hiring managers can understand what it is that we've done. In addition to that, having realistic expectations on employment opportunities within the communities.'

For those service members who have transportation issues like having a suspended license, Barnes says, 'with driver's licenses, if there are some fines that need to be paid, before they get their license back, there's an organization downtown (Spokane) that will work with the Department of Licensing, put those fines on a payment schedule, reissue the license so the individual can go back to work and while they're working they can pay the fines back to the state.

Many service members transitioning into the civilian lifestyle may want to work, but are not ready to work. Barnes says the Department of Veterans Affairs offers a number of benefits to help those who are not ready to work.

Barnes works closely with Atlas Staffing in Spokane. Joshua McKee, the President and General Manager of Atlas Staffing says he thinks employers in the Spokane area are actively seeking veterans and 'the biggest challenge for veterans is the technicality of their positions, the relating to their employer, and how those skills that they've acquired can transition into the civilian world. There are so many intangible things that veterans do that are difficult for them to communicate to employers.'

Timothy Tyvan has served our country for 26 years. He's transitioning into the civilian world and has been looking for a job for more than four months. Tyvan says it's important that organizations and businesses, people like Barnes who help veterans find work, and veterans themselves maintain open communication with each other. Hiring veterans is mutually beneficial for the business, the veterans, and the communities they live in.

Barnes and McKee shared their opinions on what state and local lawmakers, organizations, and businesses should be doing to help bring the unemployment rates for veterans down.

Barnes says, 'the federal government offers the Work Opportunity Tax Credit to employers for hiring veterans. There's a lot of steps and a lot of hoops to jump through for the employers to receive that tax credit.' The process might get better by 'removing some of those barriers so that it's easier for employers to apply and receive those tax credits.  I believe highlighting the issue, bringing it to light helps with the issue as well, and then for employers to understand what military members bring to the table.'

McKee says, 'I think the biggest thing that state agencies can do, or local organizations can do, is really create a one stop shop, a resource for those service members to understand what resources are out there and connect them with those resources.'

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