New law helps veterans find work protecting borders

A new law will help hundreds of military veterans find jobs protecting America’s borders.

The Border Jobs for Veterans Act, which President Obama signed last month, requires the Department of Homeland Security to consult with the Defense Department in an effort to hire outgoing U.S. military service members to patrol the border for Customs and Border Protection.

The law will help provide jobs for veterans who may have difficulty readjusting to civilian life. That is a common problem among young veterans, said Cliff Wade, an Outreach Specialist and Veterans Advocate at Old Pueblo Community Services, a nonprofit support organization in Tucson, Ariz.

"If you can’t find a job, everything else starts to fall apart."

— Former Army Reservist Lieutenant Joseph McCroy

“I was talking to one of our young veterans who was a Marine in that first wave into Iraq,” Wade said. “I asked him about his ‘transferrable skills.’ He replied his skill was ‘home invasions.’

“All he did for a year was kick down doors and go in, not knowing what was on the other side. He didn’t know how that could possibly transfer to civilian life.”

Joseph McCroy, 46, a former Army Reservist Lieutenant who also served in the Marine Corps, said he struggled to find a job when he returned to Tucson after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s very hard transitioning back to civilian life,” he said. “Once you get back, the first thing you try to do is find a good job. But if you can’t find a job, everything else starts to fall apart. My house was foreclosed on, truck repossessed, I got divorced … I was homeless.”

He said he hopes the new law will help connect young veterans like himself to jobs where they can utilize the skills they developed in the military.

“I appreciate that Border Patrol is doing that and I think it would be a great fit. I think your best option is to go with the military. … That’s why they joined the service. They want to secure America,” McCroy said.

In April, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Customs and Border Protection had not yet filled nearly 1,200 of the 2,000 new officer positions Congress created last year.

The new law will help veterans fill those positions without raising costs or affecting existing veteran hiring authorities – and it might expedite the hiring process, because returning veterans would have some form of government clearance heading into the job.

The unemployment rate for all veterans in 2014 was 5.2 percent – down from 6.6 percent in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But post-9/11 veterans have a higher unemployment rate (6.2 percent) than all veterans (4.7 percent) and non-veterans (5.3 percent), according to the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.

David Balderrama, Veteran Employment Relations Specialist of the Kino Veterans’ Workforce Center, which helps provide job services and training to veterans in Arizona, said he hopes employers notice the government’s efforts to hire veterans – and that they will follow suit.

“Many employers don’t seem to understand the veterans’ skills and how those can translate for them. … If they would make that effort to see these men and women have what it takes to be great employees, they would understand the benefits they get in hiring a veteran,” he said.