Friday, February 12, 2010

As unemployment ranks swell, veterans fare worse

WASHINGTON — Victor Ruiz has been looking for work since January.
  • Posted on Monday, November 30, 2009

An Air Force pension helps, but it's not enough to keep his family afloat. His house is in foreclosure, and he and his two teenage children are leaving Fircrest, Wash., to live with his parents in Chicago.
Ruiz, 39, is a retired Air Force major who has an MBA, oversaw an $80 million computer network that helped track incoming missiles and nuclear detonations, and at various times supervised more than 100 people.
"I am the most educated of my three siblings, but I am the one moving back home," Ruiz said.
Ruiz's story isn't uncommon. Many veterans, especially younger and injured ones, are struggling to find civilian jobs in a troubled economy.
The unemployment rate for veterans who left the military during the past three years is 18 percent, nearly twice the national average. The average for all veterans is about 11.6 percent. Even those numbers, however, may not reflect the situation as the economy worsened.
Six months ago, members of the 81st Combat Team of the Washington National Guard were patrolling in such places as Mosul, Balad and Ramadi in Iraq. Now, after returning home in August, roughly 40 percent of the 2,400 Guardsmen from Washington state are still looking for work.
Meantime, the Pentagon during the third quarter reimbursed the Labor Department nearly $186 million for veterans' unemployment benefits, an increase of more than 70 percent from a year ago.
"It's just heartbreaking," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. "They volunteer, serve our country honorably and come back and can't find a job."