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Veterans’ vignettes

Former servicemen share their challenges and struggles with re-entering the private sector

As military veterans return home to the Monadnock region after years of service, problems like homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction or post-traumatic stress disorder can be just as dangerous as anything they faced overseas. Without the support system and rigid rules that they’ve grown accustomed to, it’s easy for veterans to fall victim to these pitfalls. Just finding a job, the financial stability and day-to-day routine to help ground themselves, is struggle enough. Over one million veterans were out of work and seeking employment in January 2011. While the numbers have decreased slowly but steadily over the last few years, there were still almost 600,000 veterans struggling to re-enter the workforce as of January.

One-third of those are Gulf War II-era vets like Michael Roy Carr of Rindge. Carr, originally from Pepperell, Mass., served as a Marine corps sergeant overseas in three combat deployments from 2004 to 2012, traveling to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq.

After four years of service, Carr returned home and settled back into a life of working construction with his father like he had through his high school years. In late 2011, Carr opted to return overseas for a final tour.

After his final tour, he moved to Rindge to be with his girlfriend, whom he credits with helping him transition back to everyday life. Now in a new town, he found himself looking for a job. “Things were not working out too well, so I left and started searching for my first real job outside of the military and construction with my dad,” recalled Carr.

Getting frustrated with sending out over 20 applications, Carr became agitated, finding it difficult for a young man who served his country to find employment. He felt as though veterans like himself were, as he put it, “being swept under the rug and forgotten about.”

“When you get out of the service, you just want to get your life back on track and not have to worry about getting a job,” Carr said. “We all swore an oath to protect, preserve, and defend the constitution of the United States of America from all threats, foreign and domestic. Politicians send 18 year old kids overseas while they sit at home with their paychecks and pensions. Veterans come home and struggle to get their lives on track.”

There are a variety of veteran and VA services in the state, but many of them are backlogged, Carr said. “We shouldn’t have this problem today after being at war every 10-15 years or so,” Carr explained. “I didn’t care what kind of job I was looking for. It took me three months to get a job again, and that was with Belletetes.” Carr was hired at Belletetes hardware store in Jaffrey back in November. He prides himself on the fact that he has gotten back on his feet by himself, saying, “I’m not signed up with the VA. I’ve done things on my own for the most part.”

Belletetes has been a good fit for Carr, but when returning to civilian life, many veterans find that it’s not easy to adjust to civilian jobs.

“It depends on what kind of job it is,” Carr said. “Jobs in the military can relate to jobs on the outside, but you’ve already been through hell, so everything seems easy. It can be tough coming from the military, being on the go 24/7 and coming back to things that are more slow-paced.”

Andrea Reed, Program Manager for the Supported Employment program at Harbor Homes offered insight on what she looks for veterans to do when searching for employment.

“It’s important for veterans to be honest about where they are in their life as well as what they have been through. Researching the company and finding the balance between being overassertive and not assertive enough is key.”

The assimilation process is never easy, even if veterans don’t want to admit it. “Veterans are not used to asking for help, but when they come home, they need it,” said veteran paratrooper Ryan Bell in an interview in January.

Bell, born and raised in Jaffrey, went to Iraq in March 2003 and returned in late 2006. Shortly after returning to the states, Bell moved to Kansas for a year. “There was no job market, wheat fields or oil fields were the only options [for employment]. You had to know somebody.” After an unsuccessful venture out West, Bell returned to Jaffrey, where he continued to struggle with PTSD. Isolating himself because of his condition, Bell was living on $950 a month from the Veterans Association. He enrolled in Franklin Pierce University, and took classes in communications and history. Bell couldn’t deal with the daily questions from classmates regarding the war, and knew he had to move on.

Bell sought help from Monadnock Family Services, and a friend who convinced him to volunteer at the Hundred Nights organization in Keene, in an effort to get him out of the house. Bell volunteered, but remained unemployed until 2012 when he was hired by Southwestern Community Services. Today, Bell helps the homeless get on their feet. “It’s not about money, it’s personnel-driven, I like helping people. It’s essentially the same thing I did overseas.”

Bell believes that veterans often have a hard time keeping a steady job because of how they are trained in the military. “Veterans find flaws in workplaces and point them out. We are trained to assess things and come up with quick decisions. Veterans are not used to failure, they are used to success.”

When asked what advice he would give fellow veterans, Bell said, “Whatever your disability is, it’s manageable. My life is doable, I have to open up to ask for help. I don’t like media attention, but I have to lead by example.”

Bell believes that veterans must to be honest with coworkers about PTSD, and that it will always be hard to relate to civilians who don’t share the same experiences. Bell is just one of the many American soldiers who return home with the crippling PTSD disorder. Keith Corriveau, an Antrim native, shared similar struggles.

Corriveau returned from Iraq in 2011. Having joined the service soon after graduating from ConVal High School in 2008, Corriveau had little prior experience in the working world. Unsure of what to do after he left the military, he moved to Manchester, where he found it difficult to get on his feet.

Still jobless, Corriveau returned to Antrim. “A lot of it had to do with feeling satisfied with any job that you came across as a veteran. After what you were doing overseas, you feel like the job is superfluous.”

Attributing much of his job hunt troubles to his own procrastination, Corriveau felt that he did not take advantage of all of the programs he could have for help. “I didn’t use those [veteran’s] benefits right away. Probably a year later, I ended up turning to them because for the first year I didn’t work, the second year I still didn’t work. I don’t know how I managed.”

A big part of Corriveau’s struggles came from dealing with his PTSD condition. “I was diagnosed with PTSD when I came home and struggled with that for quite a while. I went to counseling because I needed someone to talk to about the things I dealt with.”

The week before Christmas 2013, Corriveau was hired as a mechanic for Osram Sylvania in Hillsborough. “I stopped by and filled out the application. Took an aptitude test, and did well on it.” Happy to have a job, Corriveau remained skeptical about whether he would be successful: “It’s something that I didn’t have experience in, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go initially. But it turns out that I enjoy it, other than working third shift.”

Having his first stable job since returning home, he had a chance to reflect on his journey. “I think the hard thing in this area is that there is limited work to start with. The government has tried to make it easier for veterans, by giving incentives to employers that gives them tax breaks for employing veterans. In our area, its pretty much the same no matter where you go in the Monadnock area, there’s a limited amount of work.”

As with Bell and Carr, it took time for Corriveau to get on his feet and become an active member of society. “I would say that the best piece of advice would be to use all of the resources that are available, whether it be counseling from the VA, or education benefits.”

Carr believes that employers around the country need to do a better job accommodating servicemen and women.

“I think if you serve your country, you shouldn’t have to wait in line just to get a job. I wish there were more companies that would hire more vets, you won’t find any better disciplined or hardworking guys or girls out there. Even if you are one person, you can still let your voice be heard, try to do something for vets. It’s sad to see vets living in homeless shelters, or standing in line for unemployment, or filling out applications for jobs so that the company can tell them that they aren’t hiring at this time.”

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