In the past few years, Heather Watson has seen an increase in military veterans enrolling in classes at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove. As the transfer/veterans adviser at the college, it’s her job to provide advice and help them sort through paperwork.
“A lot of the students want to go into criminal justice,” Watson said. “That’s the closest thing to what they have done. We offer career workshops and career counseling here.”
The Kane County Chronicle is examining the issue of the challenges faced by returning military veterans. Some veterans say it can be difficult to adjust to life outside the military – particularly when they are trying to find a job or continued their education – but there are services and groups available to help. The program at Waubonsee is among them.
Currently, 430 Waubonsee students are using veterans benefits.
“With the passage of the post 9/11 G.I. bill, that really increased the opportunities for students to use education benefits,” Watson said. “When a student wants to use their G.I. bill, we try to provide a one-stop shop and help them apply for benefits.”
Watson is the wife of an Air Force officer who has served in several wars.
“That helps a lot working with the veterans,” Watson said. “I’ve been submerged in that culture.”
The Kane County Veterans Assistance Commission also is there to provide help to veterans, such as answering questions about benefits and providing emergency financial assistance.
“The assistance could be used for rent, utilities and food,” said John Carr, commission superintendent. “It is a stopgap measure only.”
He believes more resources are available to today’s veterans than in the past.
“They are getting more information than they have in the past, and they are able to utilize that information better,” Carr said.
The DuPage County Vet Center at 750 Shoreline Drive in Aurora is one of 300 centers nationwide that helps provide readjustment services for returning combat veterans and family counseling for military-related issues and bereavement counseling for families of those killed on activity duty. The center is run by the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Watson also knows some returning veterans have lingering issues that need to be addressed before they can consider enrolling in academic classes.
“Some of them will have post-traumatic stress disorder,” Watson said. “I try to get them enrolled at the VA Clinic in North Aurora.”
The VA Outpatient Clinic at 161 South Lincolnway, North Aurora, is a satellite office of Maywood-based Hines VA Hospital. The clinic provides behavioral health services, including individual and group counseling and primary care services for veterans living in the western suburbs.
Employers pay to post jobs on the VetJobs website, www.vetjobs.com. The services are free to veterans.
At Waubonsee, Watson knows some veterans have a hard time adjusting to their new life.
“They have gone from a structured environment to being the boss at home again,” she said.
Watson educates the veterans about everything from earning credit for military experience to financial aid. Veterans attending WCC can receive four semester hours of credit from basic training, including three credits in health education and one credit in physical education.
“Maybe they are using their education credit because they can’t find a job,” Watson said. “It’s still a tough market. I know students are having a tough time finding part-time jobs.”
This past summer, WCC hosted a Hiring Our Heroes job fair at the school’s Sugar Grove campus. The job fair was put on by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Chamber Foundation, a nonprofit affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The job fair also was part of Hiring 500,000 Heroes, a national campaign by the U.S. Chamber, National Chamber Foundation and Capital One to engage the business community to hire 500,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014.
Ted Daywalt, president of VetJobs, which bills itself as “The Internet’s Leading Military Job Board,” is hopeful about the job situation for returning military veterans. VetJobs is sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and endorsed by the Vietnam Veterans of America.
“Last month, the overall unemployment rate for all veterans was 6.3 percent,” Daywalt said. “I’m very positive on veterans getting jobs.”
He acknowledged that it’s been harder for some veterans – such as those in the National Guard and the Army Reserves – to find jobs because they tend to get called up for duty on a frequent basis.
“A business can’t operate well when their employees are called out for 12 to 18 months,” Daywalt said.