02/01/2013 06:10 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2013

'It's Hard to Come Back'

We had comedy writers and an Oscar-winning screenwriter, agency executives and the guest of honor himself.

But at our agency's fall gala honoring board member and philanthropist Adam Press, perhaps the person who best summarized what JVS Los Angeles represents was a quiet young woman in a cocktail dress, a U.S. Navy veteran who returned from serving her country and, when she first came to JVS, barely had the money for the gas it cost to get to our offices.

"The military taught me courage under fire. I can face anything you can throw at me, I can handle it," U.S. Navy Corpsman Alma Zavala said. "What they didn't teach me was courage after the fire as a civilian. How do you face that? JVS did that for me. They had my back the way the Marines did. JVS has been there for me. They have helped me unconditionally and I stand before you having a job."

Zavala, who went through JVSLA' veterans support program, Veterans First, eventually earned her certification as a phlebotomist, in a program fully subsidized by JVSLA. Her path was by no means an easy one. On the JVS video about the program, Alma is shown 10 months before the gala fighting back tears as she says, "It's really hard to deal with the feelings of being unemployed, the fact that I have the experience and I have the education yet they won't hire me. They won't give me the opportunity. I don't have $2 right now."

What she did have, ironically, was the skills to keep someone alive on the field of combat. Not that this helped her. Many veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan return to civilian life and find themselves competing with job seekers who, while no better qualified, have more "real world" experience or education. Zavala, who served in Iraq, said she immediately volunteered for a second deployment. "It was hard to come back," she said.

In fact, it's extremely hard. In its Veterans Employment Situation report for November, VetJobs reviews the Bureau of Labor Statistic (BLS) job numbers and breaks out how veterans are doing in a still struggling economy.

It's a case of good news/bad news.

On the bright size, the unemployment rate for veterans was 6.6 percent, below the national average of around 7.7 percent a potential indication, according to the Vetjobs report "veterans are having better success finding employment than non-veterans."

But when you crunch those numbers, you'll note that all is by no means well.The unemployment rate for 18 to 24 year old veterans in November was 26.5 percent, possibly a reflection of the return of several National Guard and Reserve brigades. The rate for 25 to 29 year old veterans was at 10 percent unemployment for November. The overall unemployment rate for all individuals ages 18 to 24 -- vets and non-vets -- was 13.5 percent. That's nearly 2.6 million people who should be starting their careers but are out of work in a tough job market.

The Vetjobs report notes that National Guard and Reserve officers present a hiring challenge to many employers: "Employers continue to shy away from hiring as a new employee an active member of the NG&R due to the constant call-ups. Employers cannot run their companies when their human capital is taken away for 12 months or more."

JVSWorks addressed that very subject back around Thanksgiving following an L.A. Times story that talked about the sobering employment prospects faced by members of the National Guard.

At JVSLA, we not only try to help the servicemen whenever and wherever we can, we also hire them. Our agency was recently awarded the Patriot Award from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) on behalf of the Department of Defense.

Supervisor Anne Kagiri, of the U.S. Navy Reserves, nominated her boss, GAIN Operations Manager Latasha Perry as well as Senior Human Resources Generalist Deborah Miller for recognition based on their willingness to cover her caseload when she is performing military service and allowing her to supplement sick and vacation days for lost income when necessary. Kagiri also acknowledged the support of her JVSLA co-workers.

Kagiri, who has to take up to three weeks off each year for training, says she is grateful for the accommodations, even when she sometimes has to depart on relatively short notice.
"Latasha and Deborah make sure it's not a big deal," says Kagiri who also spent seven years in the U.S. Army National Guard, "And when I come back, I don't have to worry about losing my position."

"We allow service members to acknowledge doing things that are above and beyond simply abiding by The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) law," adds Tatyana Alvarez ESGR Employer Support Specialist. "It's nice for the officers to be able to come back to work after having taken off to do their military duty and to know that they're being supported."

Considering their service to our country, it's kind of the least we can do.