Christopher Wiers did two tours in Iraq with the Marine Corp. He got out in 2006. Finding a job since then has been, as he says, "absolutely a challenge."
Wiers was blown out of his Humvee by an IED in Iraq. Among his injuries: Two fractured vertebrae, broken left arm, and severe nerve damage from his right shoulder, so his right arm is paralyzed.
"I can’t really do as much as lot of people anymore," said Wiers, who just finished his associate's degree and will start his bachelor's soon. "Just finding employers that would actually hire someone that’s not going to be able to perform as good as someone else is a bit difficult.
Wiers is 28. Among veterans his age, the jobless rate is 30 percent. Right now, the national unemployment rate is about eight percent.
Like Wiers, members of the military coming home these day have a much higher rate of service-related injuries than in past conflicts.
That’s one reason why it is hard for veterans to find work.
But another obstacle is how veterans’ skills translate to the private sector. After college, Eli Williamson joined the Army, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"My job in the military was psychological operations – and sounds very ominous, but really want it means is we do marketing for the military," he said.
When he got out of the military, Williamson thought an ad agency would be a perfect fit. So he applied for a job at Leo Burnett in Chicago.
"And I put down that I was a psychological operations specialist. Of course, I did not get a call back," he said, laughing.
Williamson started his own nonprofit, Leave No Veteran Behind. The Chicago-based organization now helps veterans with transitional employment, including recruiting workers stand guard along Chicago Pubic School routes in rough neighborhoods.
On a national level, there have been several bipartisan efforts to help veterans, including a federal tax credit for employers who hire qualified veterans.
Last fall, President Obama established a Veterans Job Bank, a site that translates military skills and codes into language that makes sense to private employers.
But that also needs to be done at the state level – to have military training, certification or experience to translate to state licenses or credentials.
Take a service member who’s been driving a combat vehicle in Iraq for a few years. Right now, there’s no way in Illinois for that experience to count for a commercial driver’s license application.
"Our state is actually a pilot state working with the president’s task force on veterans to try to get the documentation out of the military schoolhouses and be able to use that to ease the licensing process and the credentialing processes," said Erica Borggren, director of Illinois Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs.
Illinois has started with health care – specifically, making it easier for military medics or nurses to get state certification.
Gov. Quinn has been known for advocating for military members. He’s soon expected to sign his latest initiative – a tax credit that gives businesses up to $5,000 back post 9/11 veteran hires.
But in the meantime, other veterans have started their own programs.
Threadless, the Chicago-based t-shirt community, will soon be featuring a series of t-shirts designed by wounded veterans – one for each branch of the armed forces.
Christopher Wiers – the Marine who was injured by the IED –will do one of the designs.
"I did convoy security when I was over in Iraq – my second tour, and it’s going to be a scene of a couple Humvees driving down the road and there’s going to be some other cool stuff, too, but don’t really want to give it away too much," he said, grinning.
Earlier this year, the nonprofit helped one veteran, Cpl. Hoffman, design a t-shirt. After it debuted, Hyacinthe – received more than a hundred emails from all over the country, from other service members wanting to design their own t-shirts. So he went to Threadless and asked if they would be willing to help create more designs.
He said he believes the project is helpful for veterans on several levels.
"What’s unique about being in the art field is, basically it’s not only therapeutic in allowing to somebody to see something you created and purchase it, but it’s extremely powerful, here you are, you’re an entrepreneur," he said.
Hyacinthe is himself a post 9/11 veteran. He said knows firsthand how hard is to integrate back into civilian life – and how much having a job is part of that process.
The Illinois Dept. of Employment Security is hosting a job fair on July 12 for veterans. For more information, visit this web site.