The number of post-9/11 veterans out of work continued to fall in January, but their unemployment rate remains above the national average.
In Augusta, community outreach and grass-roots programs are working together to put a dent in those numbers.
The Augusta Chronicle featured Bret Tindall in January during his search for work after returning from Afghanistan in December with other members of Augusta-based 877th Engineering Company. Readers responded with several work offers, which is how Tindall got his groundskeeper job a couple of weeks ago at Mount Vintage golf course in North Augusta.
“Things are going good,” Tindall said in a recent phone interview.
The latest economic reports show that unemployment among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dropped from 13.1 percent in December to 9.1 percent in January. That comes on the heels of continued improvement in the national economy, which saw a drop in unemployment to 8.3 percent in January.
A commonly cited reason for veteran unemployment is that many service members join the armed forces out of high school and miss out on the training and experience that come with working toward a career. The Veterans Curation Project is changing that.
The project meets two needs. It gives veterans a paycheck to photograph, document and archive artifacts sitting in storage that were unearthed by the Army Corps of Engineers. More importantly, it pads the résumés of veterans with marketable skills such as training with computer spreadsheets.
But interviews with veterans working at the Augusta office show the benefits extend beyond job training and résumé writing.
Adam Pennington returned from Afghanistan in September 2010 suffering from physical and mental damage caused by roadside bombs. His short-term memory was shot, concentration was difficult and he had a hard time articulating his thoughts. His self-esteem bottomed out, and he worried that he would never again hold a normal job.
“I just really had a dark time,” he said. “When I came back, it was very hard for me to transition.”
Since starting in this latest class at Veterans Curation Project on Jan. 4, Pennington’s attitude has turned around. The job places him with other veterans with a common experience, while also integrating him back into a civilian office setting. Supervisors let them know when the jokes get too colorful, Pennington said with a smile.
At 28, Charles Cooper is one of the older veterans joining the project this time. The Cross Creek High School graduate has seven years’ experience in military communications, but that doesn’t count as the actual college degree that many of the jobs he has applied for require.
“That was a frustration,” Cooper said.
This current job allows him to learn new skills such as data entry and digital processing while studying for his college degree. As a history nut, “this is right up my alley,” Cooper said.
Sheldon Owens, the curation project’s laboratory manager, said he feels rewarded coming to work every day and taking part in a program that helps veterans. As a historian and son of a veteran, he knows that the U.S. doesn’t have a perfect record of helping service members returning home.
“A program like this is only another step in the right direction,” Owens said.