There has been some good news recently regarding the status of returning military veterans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 vets nationwide dipped below 10 percent in June. That is a substantial drop from June of last year, when the rate topped 13 percent. While the trend is positive, more young veterans are out of work than the general population. WUWM’s Erin Toner profiles a Racine man who suspects his military disability status frightens employers.
Justin Claus has mixed feelings about a document that proves he served in the military.
“DD214. Do you know what a DD214 is?” Claus says.
I don’t, so Claus rummages through a cluttered desk in his living room.
“Yeah, let me see if I can dig it out here.”
He tells me, a DD214 is a document you get when you leave active-duty service.
“Basically that wraps up everything you’ve done, everywhere you’ve been, all your awards, everything. Your whole military career is on that DD214,” Claus says.
Claus points to where the document lists the reason the Army discharged him in 2010.
“Disability, permanent, that’s where it says that. Line 28 on a member 4, is what comes back to getcha,” Claus says.
Here is what the 26-year-old says he experiences. When he goes to job interviews, he brings along his DD214 because he’s proud of his service and hopes it will give him an edge. Claus says employers inevitably ask why he was discharged, and he recounts the incident in 2007 when he was part of an airborne unit. He pulled his parachute cord too late during a practice jump and hit the ground hard, injuring his spine and legs; leaving him with chronic pain.
“I’ll tell them what happened and then they’re like, oh. Usually they shortly thereafter end the interview and then I don’t hear anything from them,” Claus says.
Claus does not share the fact he also suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but senses companies assume that any veteran who served after 9/11 has PTSD. He says he knows employers cannot legally discriminate based on a disability, and of course, there’s no proof that’s the reason he’s not getting hired. But for some jobs, Claus says he just cannot make sense of the rejection.
“I tried to apply to a job to be a bouncer at a bar here in town. Instead of hiring me, who has the years of service, has the experience of security, they hired a kid that was fresh out of high school. No offense to the kid, but he was a twig and he had a broken wrist. I was like, really? He has a cast on his hand,” Claus says.
Claus thinks employers are wary of hiring veterans with physical or mental disabilities for fear they cannot do the job as well as someone else, or are unstable. His suspicions have some basis, according to Greg Williams. He’s a veteran employment representative with the state Department of Workforce Development. Williams works with companies interested in hiring vets.
“I’ve been asked, what about a veteran with post traumatic stress? Well, what about him? He’s really like everybody else. You know people have post traumatic stress from being in a car wreck or going through a hurricane or a tornado. But the bottom line still is they can function on a job,” Williams says.
Williams says employers also expressed concerns that disabled vets may be gone too often for medical appointments.
“Employers want to do the right thing, but by the same token they are a little skittish and nervous over that issue,” Williams says.
Back in Racine, Claus and his fiancé, 27-year-old Crystal Scroggins, struggle to make ends meet. What they have to work with are his unemployment checks and $600 monthly disability benefit, along with her income from delivering pizzas. They have a baby together and joint custody of three children from previous marriages.
Claus says he needs to provide for the kids, so he’s made a tough decision, one that could impact his health. He wants to re-enlist in the military so he can finally have a steady paycheck. Scroggins says it seems like the best option.
“Honestly, as long as his best interests are with the family, I support him 100 percent in whatever he chooses to do. Whether it’s going back into the military, if they’ll let him back in, or relocating to a new area just to find a job because there’s, like, not a whole lot around here that’s even worth anything,” Scroggins says.
In order to get back into the Army, Claus must be completely off his medication for a full year. That means he’ll have deal with the pain of his physical injuries, and his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, without the drugs that have been helping. He took his last pill a month ago.