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Employment provides a pathway to health and well-being for veterans

Publication date: 
Thursday, November 24, 2016

Earlier this year, Anthony Robinson, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, was sleeping in his car every night. He had visited many job placement centers, but had not been able to secure employment. He was discouraged but refused to give up. He had a family who was depending on him, and he wanted to be a good role model for his children.

Finally someone suggested he go to Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, a building that houses services for veterans in downtown Los Angeles. It was there he met Maggie Cutler, business development associate for the nonprofit United States Veterans Initiative, commonly referred to as U.S. Vets. Cutler not only helped Robinson enroll in trucking school, but she also provided encouragement through regular texts and phone calls. Robinson now has stable employment transporting cars, he is living with his wife and children again, and he is feeling hopeful about the future. 

“Having a job makes everything ten times better,” Robinson said. “Without money, it’s stressful. And stress leads to all kinds of bad things — you start having bad thoughts. Your health suffers. With a job, stress goes from 100 percent to zero.”

U.S. Vets is able to help people like Robinson due, in part, to a $180,000 grant from The California Wellness Foundation to support its Career Development Initiative. The multiyear grant was used to create Cutler’s business development associate position. Through her efforts, 50 companies and organizations — such as Northrup, Raytheon and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power — were added to a network of employers that welcome referrals from the CDI.

Human resources representatives from the different companies also present workshops at Patriotic Hall, as well as at their own corporate sites, to teach veterans about the skills needed to secure and maintain employment. Another program, Troops to Teachers, allows veterans to work alongside teachers while obtaining their teaching credentials. Veterans can also find work in the security sector after participating in a one-week training program provided by the CDI.

“Sometimes that security job gets them on the right track so that they can start building up funds to go back to school and get even better jobs,” said Robert Stohr, executive director of U.S. Vets’ operations at Patriotic Hall. “We talk a lot here about jobs versus careers. In all cases, we work with them to eventually get into careers, and we shoot for the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers.”

A large number of the individuals served by U.S. Vets are post-9/11 veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. While they were serving their country, Stohr said, other people their age were working their way up the career leader and gaining experience. “They feel as if they have been left behind,” he said, “but these young veterans are a disciplined and hard-working force, and they are trained in transferrable skills. We help them navigate. We give them a hand up.”

U.S. Vets also makes a concerted effort to reach out to female veterans who often had to forge their own way in a male-dominated organization and are therefore more isolated. A smaller but just as important population served by U.S. Vets is made up of older veterans who, Stohr said, are more disenfranchised and have more significant barriers.

As a licensed therapist, Stohr knows that each individual has a unique blend of strengths and barriers, and that finding employment is just one part of the picture. “The veteran population is prone to mental health issues and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” he said. “Many of them are unemployed and anxious. Some end up ‘couch surfing.’ All of this influences their relationships and their well-being.” That’s why U.S. Vets provides not only career support, but also an array of other services, such as counseling, legal help and assistance with housing and resources.

Cal Wellness Program Director Padmini Parthasarathy said the grant to U.S. Vets was a perfect fit within the Promoting Employment and Asset-Building Opportunities grantmaking area. “Cal Wellness invests in comprehensive workforce development programs for veterans like CDI because income and wealth drive health,” she said. “Veterans who have jobs with good wages and benefits, and with opportunities for career advancement, are more likely to lead long, happy and healthy lives.”

The CDI has placed 130 veterans in jobs so far this calendar year; 101 of those job placements occurred since U.S. Vets received its grant from Cal Wellness in June. Robinson said he is grateful to be among those helped.

“Maybe you have to go through it to understand,” he said. “Imagine not having a home or a job, and you know you’re not a bad person, but things aren’t working out. And then someone reaches out and says: ‘I’m going to give you a chance.’ This is very real, and I appreciate the help from the bottom of my heart.”

More on this topic:

California Department of Veterans Affairs — Employment

Complete Guide for Veteran Seniors
National Council for Aging Care

Employment status of veterans 18 years and over by state, 2015 annual averages
United States Department of Labor

Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans
United States Department of Veterans Affairs

Homeless shouldn't face job discrimination just because they lack an address
Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2016

Funding Issue Area & Geographic Regions
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