“This area is difficult,” said Mark Volk, the president-select and current executive vice president of Lackawanna College in Scranton, PA, “because there is not a lot of industry, there is not a lot of turnover in positions and there is not a lot of higher-paid positions for young people. But right now, the economy makes it even more difficult for returned vets to find jobs.”
Geoff Smeltzer, the co-host of WVMW radio station show “What Vets Need To Know,” agreed. “There’s nothing there for them,” he said bluntly. “After World War II, the economy was booming. My dad and all his brothers went to work in the steel mill…. Even coming out of Vietnam, jobs were around.” But, he said, “the economy now isn’t even like it was in the early nineties or even two years ago. There’s no place in those industries now.”
Anissa Fetchen, a Veterans Service Officer in Scranton, agrees. “Number one, there are no jobs. That’s a real big part of why [veterans] are unemployed.” But, she said, there’s more to it. “Part of that’s skill translation. Combat troops, they fight, they’re guards. There’s nothing really skilled [in terms of the civilian labor market] in that.”
Plus, she notes, some veterans “have trouble readjusting, because it’s not just one tour, it’s two tours, it’s three,” and, Fetchen says, “even though our government is telling us that they’re informing veterans where to go or what to do, they’re not really. They’re not telling them to seek out a service officer; they’re sending them to a website.”
Volk, a retired Army colonel, also says there needs to be more for vets to make the transition. “We have a large population [in Scranton] of students inclined to serve in the military,” he said, including a “strong [National] Guard contingent.” But especially Guard and reserve troops, he said, “their re-integration is different: they are changed, but they come back and everything else is the same.”
“These are problems that are to be expected,” Smeltzer said, “but they get no help.” He added, “There’s nothing worse than getting a parade and a pat on the back and then getting forgotten.”
Volk and his colleagues are trying to make sure, at least in some small way, that they work to address the issues facing veterans that return to the Scranton area. Lackawanna College, a private two-year school that awards Associate’s degrees, is actively recruiting veterans by creating a “vet-friendly school,” doing everything from active recruitment to setting up a financial aid officer who knows how to navigate the GI Bill and other programs, to working with foundations to develop programs specially tailored to veterans interested in starting their own businesses, to helping vets earn degrees from Lackawanna with their existing credits from other universities. “We’ll transfer as many credits as possible to help get them that degree,” Volk said, matching their classes with ones Lackawanna offers in an effort to minimize the overlap.
“What we are trying to do,” he said, “is find ways that we can incentivize people on the margins… who came back and feel stuck here.”
[Image is of Army Sgt. 1st Class Russell Minta, senior noncommissioned officer for the Defense Department's Military Working Dog Breeding Program on Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, holds a puppy in his hand. DOD photo by Linda Hosek via Flickr.]
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