Methuen, Massachusetts, is a city of approximately 44,600 people, located on the border of New Hampshire, about half an hour north of Boston. As we pulled into our hotel on the main commercial strip of town, I wondered how any law passed in this small city could possibly affect young veterans in the country as a whole. One forgets that many country-changing laws begin in towns even smaller than this.
Alexander and Benjamin McCann returned home to Methuen after serving in Iraq, expecting the transition to civilian life to be somewhat smooth, especially in respect to finding jobs. Alex, who drove Humvees in Iraq, and Benjamin, who served as a Combat Lifesaver (providing emergency medical assistance), assumed they had the skills to land a decent job. (Learn about veterans' issues and sign the petition for BRAVE, the Bill of Rights for American Veterans, here.)
"I figured, 'Oh, I'm a former Marine, a veteran. [I'll] just write it on an application, all my credentials, everything I'm qualified to do. ...There's got to be something out there,' " Benjamin recalled. "So far, it's been nothing but dead ends."
(Watch Alexander and Benjamin's story after the jump.)
Listening to their story, I was amazed to learn that the plethora of military licenses and skills that they had acquired were not sufficient for landing a simple job in the northeast corner of Massachusetts. Ben went on to explain his first experience trying to get a job. "When I went to apply for the firefighter job and told them that I was Combat Lifesaver qualified, they kind of looked at me like, 'What's that?' "
Right now is a tough time to be a young person. The economy is frighteningly unstable, colleges are canceling scholarships in order to pay their own debt, and companies across the nation are undergoing hiring freezes and massive layoffs to keep afloat. Young veterans are returning to this country after having put their lives on pause and find themselves at even more of a disadvantage than the average young person. Ironically, the same men and women who have been sent by our government to fight a war, come back to find that even city governments won't hire them because they lack the basic certifications for jobs similar to what the military trained them to do.
What struck me most about speaking with Benjamin and Alex, though, wasn't the hypocrisy I found in their inability to land city jobs. Instead, it was the overwhelmingly positive and rational attitude both brothers expressed in their frustrating search for a paycheck. "You've always got to meet state requirements ... and not get discouraged," said Benjamin. "It would be a perfect world if I could come right out of the military and say, 'Hey, I'm Combat Lifesaver qualified,' and have 50 states just jump at it. ... That would be a perfect world, but it's not a perfect world."
The city of Methuen has recently passed a resolution that would give veterans preferential treatment for city jobs. This will undoubtedly help the McCanns find a job to pay their bills. And while Methuen is a small New England city, several counties, cities and towns across the country have been calling on the Methuen city council to draft similar laws for veterans returning to their districts. (Read more about Methuen's Veteran Preference for City Employment resolution here.)
Still, there is work to be done. I asked Benjamin and Alex about what more could be done in order to make the transition easier for returning veterans. According to Alex, one possible change would be that "instead of taking a three- or four-month course that we'd have to go through, maybe they could come back and see that [we're] qualified ... give us a two- or three-week refresher instead of [us] having to relearn everything."
Both brothers felt that this country needs to have a more hands-on approach to making life better for veterans. "It needs to be focused more on cities and towns now, like it is in Methuen," Benjamin suggested.
Perhaps Methuen is a small city, but maybe its example will help make the transition from war to civilian life easier. And that step is long overdue.