15 November 2012
[Admin note from Michael Yon: I knew David from the surge in Iraq in 2007. David is the man who interpreted from Arabic to English the horrific accounts of children being baked by al Qaeda: I can confirm from being there with him that David saw much combat in Iraq.]
A Guest post by Barbara Lawrence
David Abdulkhalik kept his promises to the US Army and to his men. Now he wants to keep his promises to his family to take care of them, and to unite them under one roof. But with his wife and a son in Oklahoma, and David suffering from unemployment for 18 months with his other son in DC, his prospects do not look good. He barely survives on a VA disability pension, on Social Security disability, and unemployment insurance, but he is not looking for a handout. He wants a job that will allow him to take care of his family. In one home, in one place.
David’s story is complex, but not so different from other veterans returning from deployment. David originally enlisted in the Marines at age twenty, but a lower back injury left him with right-side partial paralysis. When his paralysis improved on its own, he enlisted in the Army Reserve. In the meantime, David earned a bachelors degree in business administration and a masters degree in criminal justice. He is now a Captain in the Army Reserves.
Though born in Oklahoma, David’s father was a Lebanese businessman, and David lived in Lebanon for much of his early life. He fluently reads, writes and speaks Arabic, which might surprise you if you met him because he has nothing but an American accent.
David deployed to Iraq three times, starting in 2002. His first two deployments were as a civilian cultural advisor. His third deployment was on active duty with the US Army. On a dismounted patrol after a fire mission on the outskirts of Baghdad, David stepped into an IED hole, hitting his back and knees hard, landing waist-deep in sewage. It was a painful jolt, exacerbated by the weight of his ammunition and his weaponry, but he continued the mission, soaked in sewage. Though David sought medical treatment the next day, the back and knee pain worsened. Still, he patrolled with his men every day despite his injuries, and he stayed with his troops when their tour was extended to 15 months. The US Army Reserve Command ordered him home after 365 days, but “I could not leave my men,” he says. “I did three different jobs while I was there, and I knew it would take three men to replace me. I couldn’t have that.”
After his deployment, David was unemployed for eight months back at home in Oklahoma. The Army ordered him to INSCOM at Ft. Belvoir near DC, and David hoped for a permanent active duty assignment. While training, he pulled a calf muscle–or so he thought. The problem was actually a deep vein blood clot. His plans were derailed. Undeterred, he entered the Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) through the Wounded Warriors Project, and continued physical therapy, doctor visits, training and lectures. By this point he is walking with a cast and with the help of a cane. The cast aggravated his back and knee pain, but he soldiered on, pursuing internships that would “result in a career fighting the bad guys but as a civilian”.
That opportunity seemed to come with the FBI, who courted him for their Terrorist Security Center. David interviewed with three different hiring managers and toured their offices. The job seemed like a perfect fit, and it was coming just in time, because David was dipping into savings to pay his bills. Then, suddenly, Thanksgiving, one year ago, the FBI rescinded the offer. The FBI sent David a letter stating that he omitted to mention a past work incident from 16 years prior when he was a US Postal Service employee. Because of the omission, the FBI deemed David untrustworthy.
What was the incident?
A Postal Inspector accused David of “delaying mail.” In 1995 David went out of town and another employee covered for him. According to David, his substitute allowed mail to pile up, leaving David with a lot of undelivered mail upon his return. David worked overtime to catch up. The Postal Inspector quizzed him about the mail, then asked him about his Lebanese-born father and his father’s business, which angered him. David wondered whether the inspector was prejudiced against him because of his Middle Eastern name. David was later told that he was cleared of wrongdoing, and that it would not appear in his personnel file. According to David’s wife, the Postal Inspector remarked to her and a union representative, ”I almost got your husband’s job this time. I will do so next time.” Using the FOIA, David requested more than 650 pages of information gathered by the FBI. The incident was not mentioned in his official USPS employment records. The Postal Inspector is now retired.
By this point David had turned down other internships, and was out of the WTU. He sought employment, but was not invited to any interviews, despite utilizing an Easter Seals veterans assistance program. In addition to his degrees and experience, the Army certifies David as an intelligence analyst. David either receives no response to job applications, or he is told that he is unqualified. David does not know if the FBI decision is chilling his employment prospects, but he cannot help but be suspicious. Maybe it is just the job market. David is far from alone. Millions of Americans are unemployed.
Soldiers returning home from deployment, especially with the Army Reserve or National Guard, often do not have a job waiting for them, and face a tough economy. Although employers cannot legally discriminate against them or penalize them for deploying, sometimes their positions are just eliminated. Army Reservists and Guardsmen also note that fear of repeat deployments sometimes prevents prospective employers from hiring them. Unemployment rates among Reservists and Guardsmen can be as high as 23-28%, even as civilians struggle with unemployment rates of 8%. Many Reservists or Guardsmen choose to redeploy due to unemployment or underemployment. Some utilize the post-911 GI Bill to attend school to improve their skill-sets and to enhance their attractiveness to employers.
As of November 2012, total veteran unemployment is at 6.3%, an 18 month low. That still means that 690,000 veterans are seeking work. Nor does this figure accurately depict the plight of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans: their unemployment rate is a much higher 10%, up from the October rate of 9.7%. Some attribute the worsening unemployment rate for such veterans to their age, which falls mostly between 18-to-24, but generally, veteran unemployment is strikingly higher than the rest of the USA.
The VA gave David a 30% disability rating and a 10-point federal job preference. That means that if you score 100 on an employment exam, David scores 110 on the same exam, all other qualifications being equal. There are some government incentive programs for hiring veterans. The “Returning Heroes” tax credit offers $2,400 for every short-term and $4,800 for every long-term veteran hired. Additionally, the “Wounded Warriors” tax credit has been boosted to $4,800 for every disabled veteran hired who was unemployed for less than six months, and $9,600 for every disabled veteran hired who was unemployed for six months, or longer. The Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act passed in 2011, funding programs to retrain 45,000 veterans at community colleges and technical schools.
Though unemployment benefits are an earned entitlement after his service, David is not satisfied. He wants the dignity of real work that can support and re-unite his family. His wife has been unable to transfer her 23 years of service at an Oklahoma post office to a location close to him in DC. He would like nothing more than to get a job that gives him a sense of purpose and worth, and that enables his wife to retire. He believes that veterans offer advantages that employers are often unaware of, and he may be right. Sixty-one percent of employers in a 2007 survey said that they lacked “a complete understanding of the qualifications ex-service members offer.” This is not surprising when you consider that in 1980, 59 percent of chief executives of large, publicly traded U.S. companies had military experience. By 2006, that figure was 8 percent. Conversely, 75% percent of veterans reported “an inability to effectively translate their military skills to civilian terms.” Some of this may be due to military jargon, and civilian employers admit that they cannot decipher it on resumes.
However, it is not just veterans from administrative or mechanical backgrounds that enjoy an advantage in employment. Even veterans of the artillery and the infantry display character traits that many employers seek. David and others are quick to point out that veterans often make good leaders, work well as a team, are accustomed to giving and to receiving orders, are able to work well under stressful conditions, take initiative in problem-solving, are self-motivated and disciplined, adapt to changes quickly, and take pride in a job well done. Combat veterans occasionally encounter employer apprehension about PTSD, based on public ignorance and sensationalistic media depictions, and are forced to dispel the myth of veterans as a risk to others.
In speaking with David, it is clear that he is not a complainer. There is no mention of the daily physical pain that he endures, or the things that he has to do without. It is all about his family. He has two sons, eleven and five. His older son lives with him. When his son asked him to buy him something David replied, “I wish I could tell you ‘No’ because it’s the right thing to do, not because I can’t afford it.” His son’s grades are slipping this year too. A former straight “A” student last year, he came home with his first “F” and “C” ever this quarter.
Both sons want to know when this ordeal will be over, and they can be reunited as a family.
David would like to be able to tell them sooner, rather than later. In the meantime, he pursues every opportunity.
Top 100 Military-Friendly Companies: http://www.gijobs.com/2011Top100.aspx?rank=9&year=2011
Unemployment challenges in AR: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=362842
Unemployment challenges in NG: http://chronicle.augusta.com/latest-news/2012-01-29/national-guardsman-searches-post-deployment-work
2011 statistics on unemployment, employers, and income for Veterans: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/military/news/2011/11/10/10609/honoring-our-veterans-in-2011/
NG unemployment: http://www.positivelyminnesota.com/Data_Publications/Economic_Trends_Magazine/June_2012_Edition/Coming_Home.aspx
Initiatives to help Veterans find employment: https://g1arng.army.pentagon.mil/Pages/DisplayFeaturedNewsItem.aspx?FeaturedNewsItemID=3
Redeployment as an alternative to unemployment: https://stateimpact.npr.org/idaho/2012/03/12/jobless-in-idaho-national-guard-soldiers-seek-deployment-in-face-of-job-market/
NG unemployment and employer discrimination: http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/Facing-job-uncertainty-returning-Guard-soldiers-1709886.php
October 2012 Veteran Unemployment Statistics: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/22/national-guard-members-battle-for-jobs/1650597/
November 2012 Veteran Unemployment Statistics: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2012/11/02/vets-unemployment-drops-to-lowest-rate-in-4-years.html?comp=7000023317843&rank=6
Facing the challenge of unemployment in returning Veterans http://www.military.com/opinion/0,15202,237428,00.html