Army Specialist Andrew Komonchak served 44 months overseas, much of it in Baghdad. When he returned home from Iraq in 2008, it took him more than two years to find steady part-time work. The 32-year-old said for him and other veterans, getting a job is tremendously difficult.
“I’m pretty much willing to do whatever it takes,” said Komonchak, who is thankful for his part-time work at Nyack High School.
He is hopeful that legislation Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Orange) announced on Thursday will help create jobs for veterans.
“We’ve got a huge problem in New York State and around the nation,” said Carlucci on the eve of Veterans Day. “We’ve got our bravest young men and women protecting our freedom overseas and risking their lives and coming home to one of the highest unemployment rates of any community in our nation."
Howard Goldin, past president of the Vietnam Veterans of Rockland County, provided some unsettling statistics. He said while the national unemployment rate hovers around nine percent, economists believe it is closer to 20 percent forveterans and could as high as 40 percent for veterans under 28 years old.
The “Hire Vets Now Act” sponsored by Carlucci would provide a $1,000 tax credit on payroll taxes for businesses that hire unemployed veterans, who have not been working for 60 days prior to their hire date. The bill, which does not yet have an Assembly sponsor, would allow the credit for veterans hired for fulltime positions for 52 weeks.
“‘The Hire Vets Now Act’ will assist New York business owners by giving them a tax break for hiring veterans and shows our veterans that we value their service and are working to ensure they have employment opportunities here in New York,” said Carlucci.
Iraqi combat veteran Aubrey Archangel, a member of Student Veterans of America, shared his thoughts with the group gathered in front of the county courthouse in New City.
“It’s only right for our nation to honor their services and sacrifices by giving them the opportunity at jobs,” he said.
Archangel, who is in his twenties, is completing his final year at the City College of New York under the GI Bill.
“I’m scared of the job market right now,” he said. “I’ve been job hunting and it’s not looking too great for us. As bad as this recession has been for civilians, it’s been tougher for veterans.”
County Veterans Service Agency Director Jerry Donnellan contrasted the experience of Vietnam Veterans with that of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. He said when Vietnam Veterans returned home, they found jobs at local auto plants and other factories. Many of the managers were Korean War or World War II veterans who helped their comrades. That scenario does not exist now.
“There’s not that many veterans in the community in places of authority to look out for them,” said Donnellan. “So it’s even tougher although they’re welcomed home and there’s yellow ribbons and there’s parades. There aren’t jobs. And that’s going to be a problem.”
Anngela Vasser Cooper, MSW and president of the Women Veterans Association of the Hudson Valley, said depression among veterans can be compounded by the lack of employment and that it is critical to help them find work.
“It’s so very important for our veterans to be respected and show them we really care in the community,” she said.
Komonchak remains optimistic and hopes efforts like Carlucci’s help to improve his situation and that of other veterans in the near future.
“Being in the army like you always want more, you always want to be the best,” he said. “And I’m looking forward to further myself as an individual and in the working community.”