ConnectOC Blog

The Welcome Home They Deserve

Posted by: Shelley Hoss on 2/23/2015

By Shelley Hoss

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below.

They’ve served bravely on the frontlines of the longest war in U.S. history. But for veterans coming home to start civilian lives, their toughest battle has often just begun. We envision them receiving a hero’s welcome, but their reality is often a labyrinth of challenges with everything from securing adequate employment and stable housing to healing from the physical and emotional wounds of war.

On February 19, the Orange County Community Foundation released the first-ever study on the status of local veterans, conducted by USC’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families. The findings confirmed that post-9/11 veterans are significantly under-prepared for the return to civilian life, struggling with employment, health and housing to a much greater degree than the generations who served before them. 

When it comes to one of the most significant barriers they face — employment — post-9/11 veterans fair far worse than their pre-9/11 counterparts. Nearly 30 percent are unemployed and looking for work, and 40 percent believe that, despite the rhetoric about hiring veterans, employers at best don’t understand their true value in the civilian workplace, and at worst may see them as damaged or even dangerous.

But thankfully, several stand-out local nonprofits are on the job, working to close the employment gap for Orange County’s veterans.

Working Wardrobes of Costa Mesa is one organization leading the charge.. Its VetNet program has reached more than 1,200 veterans and served 859 clients since its inception in July 2012. VetNet staff and volunteers consider it their mission to do whatever it takes to educate and train veterans to find jobs and be successful. And their commitment extends to encouraging potential employers to offer veterans opportunities matched to their skills and experience. 

And they’re achieving remarkable success. Eighty-six percent of the 604 veterans who have completed individual VetNet training are now successfully employed.

“When we talk about employment, we’re really talking about the dignity of work,” said Jerri Rosen, founder and CEO, Working Wardrobes. “We have to find a way to re-establish the pride these vets felt when they were serving our country by creating jobs worthy of their skill sets.”

Working Wardrobes is part of the Orange County Veterans and Military Families Collaborative comprised of 85 private and public entities that have united to figure out how to best serve our local veteran population. 

“I’m a Vietnam veteran, and I don’t want veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq to be treated the way we were treated,” said Chase Wickersham, a member of the Collaborative and vice chair of the Orange County Veterans Advisory Council. “A lot of us are involved so veterans who have a need can find the resources locally to help them.  We're interested in connecting veterans to career opportunities through networking; not just to quick short-term employment.”

Fueled by the findings of USC’s study, OCCF will soon launch an initiative to deliver critical resources to ensure the long-term success of Orange County’s veterans and their families. If you’re interested in joining the conversation, email me at shoss@oc-cf.org or learn more at oc-cf.org/veterans

________________________________________________________

Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org

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