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Panel Gathers to Explore Veteran Transition

Veterans and veterans' advocates gathered Wednesday night to hash out some of the issues facing GI's as they return from combat zones and try to assimilate back into stateside life. The discussion repeatedly returned to finding and keeping a job.

The jobs just haven't been there for the last few years, said Pennsylvania Careerlink Mon Valley office Veterans' Representative John Bittner. But it's getting better.

"We've seen more activities in jobs that veterans would like to take in about the last six months," said Bittner with an air of optimism. "More jobs available for field service technicians… some of the manufacturing jobs requiring advanced electronic that you acquire in the service they took a nose dive… they're coming back."

However, panel member Sean Parnell, who is a best-selling author and Afghanistan war veteran, said it is not always clear to a potential employer how the skills gained in the military translate to the work force. He uses a solider who is highly skilled in the use of a mortar system as an example. "Most people, when he transitions into the workforce, don't even know what a mortar is," Parnell explained. "So this veteran who was once the best finds himself flipping burgers somewhere."

Parnell said he does not think there is anything "devious or malicious" going on, it's just that civilian employers do not know what the vet can offer.

Part of the process members of the military go through when they are being demobilized includes job search skill training, but many vets feel the way the information is presented is less than useful. Careerlink is trying to address that issue and will soon be launching a new program aimed at giving the information to vets in a way and at a time that they can make sense of it.

Once a veteran finds a job, it is not always easy to settle into the workplace environment. "Combat makes you a perfectionist and it makes you hyper-vigilant," said Bittner, "and when you go into a job you are going to be working beside civilians and you are going to be working for supervisors who don't share those traits, and that's going to make you very impatient." A veteran needs to learn how to deal with that, said Bittner.

The Veterans Administration and Careerlink continue to work with employers and vets to smooth the transition. However, Parnell says the onus of helping vets transition in every aspect of their lives is on the American society as a whole.