Houston has one of the largest and fastest-growing veterans’ communities in the country. So when Brian Wilson got back from Iraq in 2007, it was an easy choice to move here, even though he’d never lived here before and had no job.
“Because I’m not from here, I was a bit lost about where to go and where to find services. And also, being pulled away from the military service, you do feel a sense of loss of not having the people that you used to work with around you to rely on.”
It took Wilson three months to find a civilian job with an ambulance service, despite his service as an Army medic. He now works for the Lone Star Veterans Association, trying to help his fellow post-9/11 vets find employment.
Roughly 35,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans now call the Greater Houston area home. Like Wilson, many of them are transplants.
“And if you look at the unemployment numbers, you can realize that they skew anywhere from 12% to 20% unemployment.”
Why are post-9/11 veterans having such a tough time finding work?
Ray Wilburn is the Houston regional employment representative for the Texas Veterans Commission. He says two of the biggest barriers to employment younger vets face are transportation and housing.
“If an individual doesn’t have reliable transportation and he doesn’t have a house to go to — a home to go to at night, it will make his job search very, very complicated.”
But Wilburn also says today’s vets may be having a tougher time than their fathers and grandfathers in leaving behind the experience of war when they take off their uniforms.
“We’re seeing more of them coming back now that have signs of post-traumatic stress, and some of them have traumatic brain injuries from being around a lot of explosions and stuff at very close range.”
Lillian Gardner agrees. The outreach specialist for the Houston office of U.S. Vets Initiative, Gardner says high rates of PTSD are also leading to another problem that makes it tough for returning vets to find work: criminal records.
“You have assault cases, especially toward family members or individual, it’s hard to get employed, especially when you’re working around certain people. And a lot of them have substance abuse issues that’s going on that it makes it hard for them to get out to find the proper employment.”
Gardner stresses there are services available to help veterans find work, even if they have criminal records. But as Brian Wilson says, that leaves one of the hardest barriers to overcome.
“A lot of the times, it’s pride getting in the way. Not knowing where those services are, or thinking, ‘I don’t need those services.’”