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SPECIAL REPORT: Heroes for Hire - KOAM TV 7

SPECIAL REPORT: Heroes for Hire

Updated:

Veterans unemployment dropped to 6.3% in October, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  But that still means nearly 690,000 veterans are unemployed nationwide.

Thousands of troops returning from war in Iraq and Afghanistan take advantage of programs like the Post 911 GI Bill.  But as one Four State veteran tells us, keeping a job while dealing with deployment is its own battle.

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For Iraq veteran David Kloppenborg finding a job wasn't the issue.  He worried that his job might be lost after deployment.  Luckily, his boss at the time was a Vietnam veteran who understood his situation.

"They told me before I left 'your job will be here when you get back so don't worry about it' so it's something I never worry about, never think about," says Kloppenborg.  "I think I was very fortunate."

Kloppenborg has worked at the Missouri Veterans Home in Mount Vernon since 2002.  He is now the supervisor of Volunteer Services.

Kloppenborg served two tours in Iraq, driving transport trucks and serving as the non-commission officer in charge at the Iraq airport, a world away from his civilian job.

"Over there every day was different," says Kloppenborg.  "Driving around I saw every corner of Iraq that first deployment, and the second deployment I sat in an office every day, 12 hours on - 12 hours off, and I hated it, absolutely hated it.  But this job, I have the flexibility of getting out and if I get tired of just sitting here at the computer I'll go visit with the residents."

Kloppenborg says he misses the comradery of the military but admits that fellowship wasn't worth jeopardizing a stable position that supported his family.

"I figured if I stayed in the Reserves, a third deployment, they might start frowning on that so that's actually one of the reasons I retired - I didn't want a third deployment - I didn't want to jeopardize the job I had here," Kloppenborg says.  "I didn't think it was fair to my employer either that I'd keep getting deployed."

While Kloppenborg considers himself lucky there are many veterans still searching for a stable career.

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Dale Wark has been trying to get a job for three and a half years, longer than the amount of time he served in Vietnam.

"I just want to have a life," Wark says.  "They told me to go to Vietnam.  They told me to kill people.  They told me when we got back home I would have a job.  Never had a job when I got home, I drove a truck just to have a job.  I drove a truck for 20 some years."

But Wark says truck driving takes him too far from home. 

"I don't want to be a truck driver anymore," Wark says.  "If I want to go back on the road I could pick up all kinds of jobs, but then I'm not here."

Like many veterans Wark suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  He says his PTSD is a constant struggle and causes him to either have horrifying dreams or sleepless nights.

Wark says he is responsible and hard working but believes PTSD is one reason employers won't hire him.

"It does come out sometimes, it does show," says Wark.  "I mean, I'm not afraid to tell them but it's none of their business that I have it okay, but some people do ask me - 'do you have PTSD?' and I say 'yeah'.  Cant lie - why should I lie?  I just want to work.  I want to make money like everybody else to feed my family and take care of what has to be taken care of."

Wark's resume lists a variety of jobs and skills but he believes including military background on an job application has done him more harm than good.

"On the application it says 'were you ever in the military?' - yep - 'what?' - Marine Corps," says Wark.  "'Where?' and it starts from that point on, that-that's when they start looking - 'Because we don't know if you're going to snap.'"

State programs like Show Me Heroes connect employers with veterans looking for jobs.  More than 2,600 employers have taken the Show Me Heroes pledge.

The local veterans rep for the southwest Missouri region is Steven Nicole - 417-629-3000.

Bubba Evansco with the Workforce Investment Board says more than 700 Missouri veterans have been helped.

"We do have local veterans service reps that are available for veterans," says Evansco.  "They can come in the Career Center during normal business hours and they are able to speak to someone that is tuned in to just veterans.  They work with employers on the veterans behalf.  They work with veterans when they come through the door.  It could be everything from a simple job search to resume help, to on the job training, to Show Me Heroes, to basically just get them back to work."

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Thousands of veterans are choosing to be back in class rather than on the job hunt.  That includes around 300 veterans going to school at Missouri Southern State University.  They say they are taking advantage of programs like the Post 911 GI Bill to set themselves up for a better career.

After serving in the Army in Afghanistan and Iraq, Daniel Williams is adjusting to college life at MSSU.

Patrick O'Neill is also a student at the college and is active duty with the military.

Both men chose college after combat.

Williams says finding a job after he arrived home was difficult.  He realized that a career was going to mean college.

"Today's marketplace, if you don't have a degree you are not going to go far," says Williams.  "Employers are going to look at further education that will set you apart from anybody without it."

With the help of the Post 911 GI Bill, Williams is studying to be an English teacher without the burden of having to come up with tuition.  The Bill pays from 40% to 100% of tuition if the veteran was active duty for three years.  The bill also offers a monthly allowance so veterans don't have to work while in school.

"I didn't feel any financial burdens," says Williams.  "It's an excellent program.  I don't know who came up with it but I love them."

"We have ages from 19, 20 years old to 60 years old," says Denise Vigil, a veterans certifying official.  "People are coming back and right now the government is addressing the problem of unemployed veterans in the nation."

In Missouri alone enrollment is up by more than 4,000 veterans compared to 2010, and it's up at MSSU as well.

"It's kind of like a safety net when they come home, they even can further their career of what they have been doing in the military and just add to that, or they can just start something new and they do have enough benefits after they finish a four year degree," says Vigil.

Since O'Neill is still in military training he is not eligible for the Post 911 GI Bill.  He is eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill.  O'Neill receives benefits from the bill nut he relies on his part-time job to pay his way through school.

"I got a job but it's kind of hard to keep it because you have to do all these things - you have to go through the monthly drills and stuff like that and your boss doesn't like that - and so I've been through quite a few jobs because of that," says O'Neill.

O'Neill says he wants to equip himself with the knowledge he needs to know to get a better, more stable career.

"I do want to get a better job because I'm only working for minimum wage going through school because school is taking up most of my time," says O'Neill.  "Right now I could go up in the ranks of my job right now or I could get a better job and get better pay, get better benefits, just get a better life."

As Williams and O'Neill strive for a better career they hope their college education gets them where they want to be.

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