You can take the soldier off the battlefield, but the battles at home can rage on, months, even years after deployment. When SSG. Nik Refsland returned home, he knew he wanted to try something new.
“The economy can be difficult, finding a job. But it’s also difficult to find a job that gives you that same “high” that you had when you were deployed overseas.”
Refsland admits fighting was an adrenaline rush. He now gets a rush building his own business – DSMSwag.com. People who log on to the site can get free stuff, also known as swag, from local businesses.
Refsland says he wanted to do something exciting and meaningful when he returned from Afghanistan.
“When I got back home, some of the things I heard and saw going on upset me a lot.”
After battling insurgents in Afghanistan for a year, Refsland decided to take on the economy.
“I swore an oath to defend America and I wanted to do something to defend the American dream.”
But the American dream eludes many veterans. According to the Labor Department, the jobless rate among veterans who have served on active duty since 2001 was 12.1 percent in 2011. That’s up slightly from 11.5 percent in 2010 and much higher than the non-veteran rate of 8.7 percent. The Iowa National Guard says the rate among the Second Brigade Combat Team, which returned from Afghanistan a year ago, is about 10 percent.
“There could be lots of reasons,” says Shawn Hippen, a business adviser for the Job Connection Education Program. “A lot of time it’s they were under employed. A Sergeant for instance, he’s been in charge of five, ten, twelve people. He’s been responsible for a million dollars worth of equipment and he comes back and has a regular job and he wants to grow.”
JCEP provides veterans and their spouses with the skills needed to find that next job. Iowa is just the second state to provide the program, but Hippen says that’s not the only thing that sets Iowa apart.
“Iowa is a very patriotic state and the employers are very patriotic in wanting to hire veterans. It’s what we see every day.”
When an employer isn’t so patriotic, Iowa’s veterans turn to Ramon Rodriguez, the Deputy Director of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, or ESGR. One of its main missions is to educate employers about the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Act. It protects employment and reemployment rights of service members.
In the last year, 61 veterans, from all branches of service, have filed disputes against their employer. To date, all have been resolved without litigation.
“Whatever they have been,” says Rodriguez. “It’s been a simple phone call. A simple communication between us, the service member and the employer.”
There’s no question, returning to civilian life and a civilian job is difficult. The biggest challenge, according to Refsland is “having the confidence to step out.”
Even compared to combat.
“I have no problem getting shot at and running in the direction of the bullets. But walking in and presenting an idea and getting rejected – now that’s scary.”