Plethora of employment programs can overwhelm wounded veterans

Lane W. Williams, the state's Veteran Services Program manager, helps disabled veterans find employment after returning from their deployments.
Lane W. Williams, the state's Veteran Services Program manager, helps disabled veterans find employment after returning from their deployments. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

Wounded soldiers returning from war can find plenty of programs through nonprofits and the government that offer to help them re-enter the workforce.

The problem, according to a new report, is that there are so many employment programs, often duplicating each other's efforts, that job seekers can easily be overwhelmed.


On top of that, so little research has been done on these programs, it's unclear which are most effective.

"There are tons of programs available," said clinical psychologist Karen Chan Osilla, lead author of the Rand Corp. study. "They are all variable in terms of intensity of services, anything from simple resume tips to 'Here, let me get you a job and train you on the job.'"


"We don't need more programs. We need to determine whether existing resources are sufficient."

The Rand findings are similar to those of the Government Accountability Office, which counted 45 employment-related federal programs for people with disabilities.

The GAO said in its June report that each of the programs overlapped at least one other, and much of the duplication occurred in the 19 programs geared to veterans and service members. The GAO suggested that the Office of Management and Budget consider whether consolidating some overlapping programs would make them more efficient and effective.

Osilla says it's important to review programs and their effectiveness now, given the influx of wounded soldiers from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


During the Vietnam War, 70 percent to 75 percent of soldiers survived their injuries. Today, with improved protective equipment and better care, more than 90 percent of soldiers survive, Rand says. But many come home with multiple injuries.

More than 47,000 soldiers have been wounded in Afghanistan or Iraq, and Rand says hundreds of thousands more will be diagnosed with hearing impairment, degenerative vision, post-traumatic stress disorder and other so-called "invisible wounds."

If these returning soldiers are capable of working but can't find a job, Osilla says, this could negatively affect their long-term health and rehabilitation.

Those who assist veterans in Maryland agree that all the government and nonprofit programs can be difficult to navigate.

"For the person coming back from overseas from the war, it can be overwhelming," said Lane Williams, statewide veteran services program manager with the Maryland Department of Labor.

Williams knows firsthand. He was a helicopter mechanic with the Army in South Korea in 1998 when he injured his left leg in an accident. Doctors repaired his leg and reconstructed his foot, but he found it difficult to stand for long periods and do his job, so he left the military to find a new career.

Williams says he was overwhelmed initially by all the programs. He started his search with federal and state agencies — and that's what he now advises others to do. Government agencies, he says, are often familiar with all the available resources and can direct veterans to the help they need.

Williams sought help through a One-Stop Career Center, a national program. According to federal figures, 48 percent of disabled veterans seeking help last year through Maryland's One-Stop Career Centers had found employment by the following quarter, which is slightly higher than the national average.

But finding the right program isn't the only obstacle for returning soldiers looking for civilian work, Williams and Osilla say.

Many soldiers enlisted at a young age and have little or no prior work experience to put on their resumes. Some have difficulty relating the skills they learned in the service to civilian work.

"How do you translate driving a tank?" Osilla asked.

Williams noted one other problem: Service members may perform nearly identical jobs to those in the private sector, but lack the professional certifications that civilians receive and companies demand. He said there needs to be a way to certify service members for the skills attained in the military that would be recognized by civilian employers.

Osilla says there also needs to be more coordination among agencies and programs.

That's already happening in Montgomery County. The Mental Health Association of Montgomery County launched a four-year pilot program last year called Serving Together. The project helps veterans of all ages and their families navigate the many resources available to them in the county, according to Jessica Fuchs, the project director.

Fuchs, the wife of a U.S. Marine, says Serving Together evolved from a study a few years ago that found a lack of communication and coordination of services in the county.

"If you don't know where to go and what questions to ask, you don't know where to start and it gets frustrating," she said. "You stop trying."


Resources for veterans, families and employers

Maryland's One-Stop Career Centers assist job seekers: dllr.state.md.us/county

Serving Together provides information to veterans and their families in Montgomery County: servingtogetherproject.org

National Resource Directory, a veterans job bank: nrd.gov/employment

VA Career Center: benefits.va.gov/benefits

Veteran Employment Services Office: vaforvets.va.gov/sites/veso/Pages/default.aspx

America's Heroes at Work offers information for employers hiring veterans with traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder: americasheroesatwork.gov

Compensated Work Therapy develops rehabilitation plans for veterans: http://www.cwt.va.gov/veterans.asp

Hire Heroes USA offers employment assistance: hireheroesusa.org