Iraq veteran Alicia Barnes says her dream job would be the director of a nonprofit—but right now, she's just looking for full-time work.
"I was in the Navy from 1998 to 2005 and was deployed to Iraq in 2003 with the Marines. After I got out I finished my Bachelor of Science from Purdue University in psychology. I'm currently working for a mental health agency, but I'm underemployed and getting about 10 hours a week. The position I have only requires a high school diploma. I'm also a single parent, so I have even more constraints because I can't take a second or third shift job—all my money would go to day care.
"In the meantime, I volunteer for a foundation that aims to end the stigma of mental illness—I help with their Twitter account. I'm very computer savvy, so I wind up helping with computers and software issues with any employer I have. I'm also a peer support person at the VA in Maine—I work with an LGBT group following the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' I firmly believe that as I volunteer I'm making connections and gaining experience to put on my resume, and those things will hopefully help in the long run."
President Obama's actions to help returning servicemembers find work are a smart move, says Alicia—and not just for the veterans and their families.
"Veterans are a resource. We receive all of this training, and it’s almost like it's going to waste. All of my veteran friends, if you tell them to be there at 9:00 a.m., they'll be there at 8:50. We're dependable, we're very organized, we know how to prioritize, because things can get complicated, especially if you have three or four bosses. I've never panicked under pressure—it doesn't help—and we're able to keep deadlines. I was an electronics technician, but I literally know how to fight fires—it's like being a jack of all trades."
Alicia is also using her skills to conduct a more efficient job search. She explains:
"Veterans know how to use our resources. I went online and found a 'Hiring our Heroes' career fair in my area today. I did my research to decide what I needed to bring, and since there was no list of which companies were going to be there, I looked at photos of past events to figure out what kind of groups had booths and what they would be doing. Being a veteran, I'm all about preparation."
While she continues to pursue what she hopes will be widening career opportunities for veterans, Alicia says she's still committed to volunteering. In the coming years, she plans to continue to support the President's work toward equality for all who want to serve their country.
"The end of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was big for me—that's what had the most impact, because I think that you should be able to serve regardless of sexual orientation. It's hard enough to find people who can do their jobs well, and sexual orientation has nothing to do with that. It was a discriminatory policy. I volunteered for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network during the repeal and I'm still active today.
"I was asked to speak at the VA in June at a lunch-and-learn event, and then they asked if I would do a peer-to-peer support group for LGBT veterans. I have my volunteer training this week, and I'm hoping to do that about once a week. We're only the second VA in the country to offer a group like this, and it's unpaid, but I'm hoping that if this works out, maybe a year down the road we can train more peer-to-peer support technicians. That's something I want to do, and between my psychology degree and my skills as a vet, it's a good fit for me."
The Senate voted yesterday to support tax incentives for businesses that hire unemployed veterans—but there's still more work to be done. Stand with supporters like Alicia by letting us know why you can't wait for Congress to keep making progress on jobs and the economy.