As our country pauses today to honor the heroism of veterans past and present, we must also take time to focus on our veterans' futures. We've heard a lot lately about the battles our servicemen and women, especially our most recent veterans, face once they return home from active duty and rejoin civilian life.
These battles have resulted in rising rates of depression, substance abuse, and even suicide. For many veterans, such problems are rooted in the simple struggle to find a job once they leave the service, a struggle that can make an already difficult transition seem insurmountable.
One of those people is Brian Addison, who spent more than ten years as an MP in the Army, but found himself unprepared for the new challenges he faced upon returning home.
"I learned a lot of things and did a lot of things in the military," says Brian. "Several deployments made me face difficult situations, but it didn't prepare me for the civilian world and the challenges I would face there."
Shortly after leaving the military, Brian began using drugs and alcohol, hoping to avoid his pervasive feelings of doubt, displacement and anger. Although he found several job opportunities in the restaurant industry, he was unable to hold them down. Knowing he needed a change, Brian went back to school, and for a while made some real progress, graduating from Columbus State University and then starting law school. But substance abuse increasingly took over his life, and he left law school after just a year. His marriage fell apart and in 2009 he was arrested for drug possession. Homeless, save for a sister who was kind enough to take him in, Brian felt a lifetime removed from his decade of proud Army service.
"I was unemployable, and very well defeated and unable to do pretty much anything," said Brian. "Even though I had 10 years of military experience, three deployments, a bachelor's degree and was married with two kids."
It wasn't until he hit rock bottom that Brian found out about a program at Goodwill Industries® of Southern Rivers that helps prepare veterans for the myriad challenges of post-service life. Brian joined the program, and Goodwill counselors worked with him on everything from restoring the basic people skills that had declined during his battles with drugs and depression, to developing job interview tactics and specific workplace skills.
Upon graduating from the Goodwill program, Brian landed a part-time job in the accounts payable department of an independent living facility. After being there for just a month, he was offered a full-time position as an occupancy specialist. Today, Brian's life is back on track. He is sober and focused on being a good dad and productive worker.
Unfortunately, there are too many cases of veterans like Brian who never get the help they need, be it substance abuse treatment, a mental health diagnosis, housing assistance, or just the opportunity to learn new skills that will help them find a job.
At Goodwill, we work with veterans like Brian every day, helping them put their lives back on track and re-enter the workforce. In 2009, nearly 2 million people in the United States and Canada were served through Goodwill's career services programs, including seniors, veterans, immigrants, people with disabilities, those with criminal backgrounds, and others facing challenges to finding employment. Out of the nearly 2 million people served last year, 21,873 of those individuals had documented veteran status. In 2008, this number was only 12,524.
Take a minute to listen to Brian's story in his own words. Each week, you can hear another story from someone who has been able to get their life back on track via the My Story podcast, also available for free through the iTunes store.
This Veterans Day, as you remember the heroic service of our men and women in uniform, please take a moment to think about the battles they face when they get home. If you are a veteran and are in need of job training or employment assistance, or if you know of someone who is, contact the Goodwill in your community and ask for an employment specialist.