On Being Ex-Military and Unemployed

When I got out of the military service – the navy – I had the hardest time finding work.  I still do, five years later.  I have tried to rationalize it. I have tried to ask questions and feel with my feelers about the hows and whys.

Understand this.  I didn’t join the service out of “not having options”.  I joined out of military tradition in my family, a sense of pride and loyalty.  To serve country.  I am a highly educated guy. I was before I joined and I’m even more-so now.  You know what I did in the navy?  I was what they called a “nuke”.  I played my part in maintaining, repairing, operating, managing, supervising… that’s right… a Nuclear Power Plant. One of the militaries most prestigious enlisted programs. I was an electrician, in addition to a nuke.

Between being ex military and being a nuke, you wouldn’t think Id have as much trouble finding work as I do.  But I do. I’m obviously intelligent, obviously have a sense of loyalty, obviously a team player, obviously able to obey orders and instructions, obviously trainable and intelligent.  And yet, no one will hire.  And for no legitimate reason.  I can’t even get a job involving a spatula and a disc of compacted animal leftovers.  And they wont even give me the courtesy to tell me if its because I’m over qualified or under.  Yes, the economy is bad now. But even when it was going strong, I still couldn’t find work.

At first I copped it to the controversy of the middle eastern war.  Are the American people horrid enough to blame the service men and women for the decisions of the leadership they elected?  Does coming home from a foreign war-front really earn me so much disrespect?  I should hope not.  Sure, you shake our hands when you see us in uniform on the streets, but sitting across from me during a job interview you’d rather hire the 16 year old high school dropout.  You have a company image to maintain, after all, and hiring veterans of a war many were against makes the company look bad, doesn’t it? My first job after the military, when I finally found one, my employer was also ex military, who appreciated the difficulty we have finding work – even he knew it then. Thank God.

And that 16 year old drop-out you’d rather hire is impressionable, ignorant of the way things work, desperate for employment, doesnt know his rights, and you can easily take professional advantage of a naive child such as that. He is easily replaceable, non-threatening, you dont have to put up with him but he thinks he has to put up with you.

But I still have trouble.  I have reasoned this much. There are employers in this country who see an ex-military man in one of two ways.  Either someone who is a brute and had no other option but to join the military, who couldnt make a civilian life work… not worth hiring for anything other than hard labor.  Hard labor I wouldn’t even mind and have indeed applied for such work – but I am turned away because I dont have the physical build for it either, nor the journeyman licenses that permit certain employment.

Alternatively, the ex-military man is seen as someone who was forced out of the military or who couldn’t make a military career work.  Right… Because we all enter the military with the intention of spending our lives there and making it a career.  Same conclusion is drawn about them.

As of late, though, I have also come to realize that there is a third group of employers who don’t care one way or the other about me being ex-military.  They see me as a 29 year old who has no real professional experience suitable/complimentary to my age… thus I must be unmotivated.  Because anyone who is my age and didn’t join the service would have a whole lot more civilian experience than me… well, duh?!?!

Alternatively, I’m seen as just a 29 year old who doesn’t have a degree yet. With no regard for the fact that I am highly intelligent, well educated. With no regard for the fact that I simply haven’t yet had the time to acquire a degree; but I am a student who is actively trying to earn a degree and my grade point average speaks for itself.  They don’t see a six year enlistment as justification enough for being six years academically behind individuals my own age.

Being 29, they see me only as someone who should either have a masters degree or a doctorate, or someone who should be a professional working his way up the corporate latter. Else, be a uniformed officer working my way up the military chain. Any of the above they would respect. Anything short of that makes me not worth hiring.  The only other military man I have ever worked with after the service was ten years older, spend two years fewer in service, he did have a degree comparable to the management leading us, and he was working the same crappy job I was.  Being where I’m at professionally (in terms of experience) and academically, Id have a much easier time finding work if I was ten years younger.  Shoot, Id have an easier time finding work being my same age, had I simply not joined the military and sat on my bum those six years instead.

Their willingness to hire me would be far improved if I were less experienced and younger… because then my lack of degree and lack of title would be justified.

Whats worse is that the government doesn’t even have respect for their own ex-military men.  See this article on military recruitment facts. You also can’t collect unemployment coming out of the military – its a job your employer will more than happy to keep you, and your choice to leave, even at the end of your enlistment obligation, is still a choice because you can always re-enlist.

The only source of “income” I had for the first year being out was the monthly benefits I received from the Montgomery GI Bill… which requires that I be a full time student to receive any pay.  That money is supposed to go to academics. Of course being a full time student is a full time job in itself, leaving little else for a real job.  It was hard enough finding a job, now I also had to find one that will cater to my school schedule too.

Of course, the first quarters tuition comes out of your own pocket.  You have to pay for tuition and be enrolled in classes before the VA will compensate you for it with the MGIB. That’s fine though.

The irritating part about dealing with the VA is that the people you get a hold of over the phone are morons, for one.  Secondly, the government graciously screws you and forces you to call these morons.  I cant count the number of times the MGIB check ran anywhere from 1 to 4 months late.  Twice now I had to forgo a quarter because I didn’t have the money to pay for tuition, even though I was owed and had been owed for over a quarter.

The government will routinely do that.  They will halt all MGIB, cut it in half one month for four months in a row, double it the next, for no reason and without explanation or warning.  They will send you a bill, even, saying that they over paid your benefits and that you owe them. Instead of taking the $5 out of next months pay, they will cancel your benefits entirely until you send in a check.  Ive had checks sent to me over two consecutive months, with a bill in between, the bill cancelled and I never had to lift a finger.

I rely on the MGIB, not only as a student but as an ex military man who cant pay the basic needs to sustain life, with no other source of income and no way to get a job.

I’m not getting benefits for this quarter because I couldn’t afford tuition.  And I certainly wont be able to afford it next quarter either unless I can get a job. I have reached the down-hill spiral. My savings is depleted.  Unless my employment status changes within the next month or two, I will likely be homeless.  All because the VA refused to send me a check I was due in a timely fashion.

I still have over a years worth of benefits pending, if I can ever enroll again.  And assuming it doesnt take over one quarter to receive those benefits, I can pay the next tuition. If I get the checks it will be more than enough to live on… hopefully until the recession ends… and Ill be all the closer to a degree by then. By the time the checks I’m owed arrive, I wont even be living here anymore.  Probably be curled up in the garbage bin in the backyard.

Did you know that nearly 1 in 3 bums living in alleys in these United States are veterans, hardly any of whom are bums for a legitimate reason and most of whom simply could not find work?

I think the government is gambling.  I think they gamble on the idea that I’m not in a position to complain. Any complaint or petition or hearing I ask for will take six months for a response. I  lose benefits now, saving the government money during the recession, and guaranteeing that I wont be able to afford tuition next quarter either – which guarantees yet another quarter the government saves on benefits. And another. And another. They say 90% of veterans never use their MGIB (which is how the military makes money off the deal)… and Im starting to wonder why that statistic is true.

I called a temp agency today.  A half dozen actually. They wont even help me. Why? Because I haven’t been employed in over a year – for over a year by the same employer – and simultaneously I’m not currently an enrolled student.  Ha! The irony.

Apparently I have to either be a student or else have been laid off from a job I stayed no less than twelve months at, no less than twelve months ago. In other words, if I can pay for tuition I likely dont need the help and if I cant pay for tuition I dont qualify. And if I work a job while going to school on some scholarship programs, I will likely lose those scholarships. The system is designed to fail.

I did get laid off my last job. And I got laid off less than twelve months ago. But I only worked for that job less than one month. I had quit my prior job before that in order to work this last job because it was more stable, reliable, and better paying. Except when the economy turned south I was the newest member of the “family”, so they booted me. I wouldnt have been laid off at all had I kept the job before.

Being a white male doesn’t help me get hired, either. Im months away from being on the streets, highly educated, highly qualified, hard working and highly trainable, with no criminal record, no drug usage, and I speak coherent English. But I dont help employers meet their legally enforced reverse segregation standards.

Of course, not being an actively enrolled student this quarter looks even worse to an employer. Because now I’m a 29 year old who is neither has a degree nor am I actively getting one. Now, I surely must be unmotivated.

What are my option? Rejoin the military? I’d rather move to a socialist country than be a victim of a shallow, selfish, capitalist country I wilfully gave six years of service to, and who now backs me into a corner and fails to appreciate. Such a society be damned.

My brother followed me into the service.  In some ways he is smarter than I am in many fields of study – in many practical fields of study. He has his Associates, and is close to his Bachelors. But he didn’t serve as a nuke. He has just as much trouble as I do. The government screwed him out of an entire years worth of MGIB benefits due to a paperwork “glitch” that they admitted responsibility for. The only thing he has to his advantage is medical benefits as a disabled veteran – but he is fully functional.  He had a job already when the economy went down hill and now is lucky to make $4 per hour on most days (minimum wage is $8.something, but he doesn’t get paid an hourly wage).



2 Responses to “On Being Ex-Military and Unemployed”

  1. cljgrind Says:

    I feel your pain, man. I am an ex navy nuke electrician.
    I had my first interview with a coal plant and blew it because they thought I was too nervous and I didn’t answer their questions with profits in mind. Then I was supposed to get offered a field service technician job with GE, but they did some analysis and scrapped the entire job offering after getting my hopes up for months and promising an offer (it was contracted through Orion). Now I just interviewed with a chlorine manufacturing plant and they want PLC AND mechanical experience so i have my doubts about it. I’m at my wits end. I am making very little above minimum wage and would not be broke had I not enlisted. Please post updates on your situation. I take comfort there are others going through something similar.

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