More than 40 employers took part in a hiring fair in Groton Tuesday aimed specifically at veterans. It was part of the Hiring Our Heroes campaign run by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Emily Munoz is in charge of all veterans' hiring fairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in this region. She lost her husband in 2005 after his return from Iraq. "He used to always say that doing the mission was his first goal. Taking care of his guys was the next goal," she said. "I really feel like here we have a chance to continue that. So our mission is to get people from the military into the community, and take care of the people who have served us so bravely. We have a lot to thank them for."
Part of the mission is to inspire veterans to push through difficulties that they encounter in civilian life. Former Marine Justin Constantine suffered catastrophic injuries seven years ago in Iraq when he was shot in the back of the head. He's had multiple reconstructive surgeries, and his recovery is still ongoing, but he is now part of the campaign's advocacy team. "I feel like I have a good sense of the challenges our veterans are facing," he said. "I feel like I'm in a good position to help bridge the gap, which is exactly what the Hire our Heroes campaign is all about."
Constantine said that despite the challenges of linking employers and veterans, he encounters a lot of optimism in the groups he talks to. "They're excited to work on their resumes," he said, "to learn interviewing skills -- they're learning how to do things the right way. You can just tell they're excited to do this. Some of them have been out of work for a while, so this campaign is critical to them."
Robert Graves from Vernon came looking for new opportunities in civilian life. He served 25 years in army and army reserves, and he said he's starting to see more recognition among employers of the value of veterans' experience. "Veterans have the ability to bring a lot of leadership skills," he said, "and are able to adapt to any situation that's presented to them. I think it's very profitable for the employer."
And statistics suggest he's right that the message is getting through. While the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is still higher than the general population at 7.3 percent, 2013 did see a significant drop in the rate, falling 3.5 percent year-over-year.
You can read more about Justin Constantine's story in his own words here.