Veterans fresh from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are being hit hard by the current economy and the competition for jobs. The financial prospects for vets under 30 can be even more daunting. Many are trying for the first time to translate their military skills into the marketable experience civilian employers seek.
Kevin Miracle has seen a lot. The 30 year old served 10 years in the Army. During that time he did two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. Life since he got out in September has not been easy,
"When you're over there you don't realize how bad things have gotten at home," said Miracle. "Like you can read in the news and stuff but especially in your community where you live, like here on the East Coat: New Jersey, Philadelphia, we got hit pretty hard especially with the economy. Getting out and finding a job was so hard. I couldn't get a job anywhere."
Miracle said it wasn't for lack of effort. The former Staff Sergeant spent eight hours a day looking for work, but with no offers he felt like he'd been demoted to a 'private' in the civilian world.
"I got to the point, I literally filled out an application at McDonald's," Miracle said. "And they told me I was over-qualified, thank you for your service, but I mean I would clean toilets, do what I had to do to pay my bills."
Miracle ended up posting his bio on Craigslist and getting a job here at The Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service & Education Center. As an intake counselor, Miracle helps evaluate the housing and employment needs of vets who are coming into the Center for the first time. The vets step off the elevator and it's just a few steps to his desk,
Miracle's planning to go to college to get a degree in social work so he can help other returning vets. But like many of them, he's limited in what he can do because of any injury. Miracle pointed to a scar on the palm of his hand,
"It was a Coke can with a little IED under it--improvised explosive device," he said. "One of the young privates, that I was in charge of, went down to pick it up. He was about to, he was about an inch away and I just kind of grabbed him and swatted it."
Miracle said he knows his challenges are not unique, or by far the worst.
Cathy Salerno has seen many of the challenges. She's been working with vets at the same center, for 18 years. She said Miracle's situation is a prime example of the challenges vets face when they leave the military.
"What we would like it to is equal to the important role that he played in the military in intelligence," said Salerno. "But when he came back what that equated to probably is a high-paid security guard. And it's really sad and disappointing because these people held such vitally important jobs. They saved people's lives."
Veterans advocates say gaining new skills, going to college or getting trained to do something else, is key. But in this job market, even vets who seem to do everything right, can end up struggling,
Like Erin Lloyd. The young Navy vet has an easy going smile, an accounting degree from Rutgers, and the drive to find a career where she can support herself.
"I started my job search in November, so a month of so before graduation," said Lloyd. "I've applied to a lot, 50 jobs, maybe more. I've been on two interviews. I didn't get them. They actually said I didn't have enough experience."
Lloyd's maintained her Mount Ephraim, New Jersey apartment with a part-time job. She said the discipline she learned as a military policewoman should very appealing to potential employers.
"When I was in that job for those 5 years, the training is unbelievable," she said. "I mean you're at a job 24 hours a day 365 days a year."
Many potential employers don't understand all the valuable experience vets bring to the job, said Tim Embree. He's a legislative associate with the group: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
"Thing is a lot of folks don't understand is unemployment's been bad for everybody but it's been much worse for veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan," said Embree.
Back at Erin Lloyd's apartment, piles of boxes illustrate her new strategy. She's moving back in with her parents in Florida. Her mom Jody Miller came to help.
"She's a great worker, very determined. [The] military was great for her. I'm just excited to get her back to Florida and get her working," said Miller.
Lloyd said she knows she's not alone in hoping an employer in Florida will recognize the value of hiring a vet.