SEMINOLE — Scott Owens was a bank teller. Charles Welsh was a maintenance mechanic. Then they joined the military.
Now, years after leaving Iraq, these men are faced with an issue they never really experienced before: unemployment.
With wives and kids to support, they are eager for work. They hope to find that Friday at the Veterans Employment Outreach Job Fair at the Bay Pines veterans complex.
The job fair, sponsored by Abilities of Florida, WorkNet Pinellas and Bay Pines VA Healthcare System, is exclusively for veterans. About 15 employers will be present, including Home Depot, Bright House and Goodwill. About 200 veterans are expected to attend.
"None are us are looking for a handout. We just want to go back to work," said Welsh, 45.
In the time Owens and Welsh have been unemployed, they have found that it's difficult for a veteran to get back to work.
They say that because many veterans are in the Reserves, employers are reluctant to hire them because they can be called to duty at any time. They also say employers are concerned about post-traumatic stress disorder or other disabilities veterans may have.
But they also say that hiring a veteran can bring a lot of good to the workplace.
"We're disciplined, we have good experience, we're reliable and we're taught integrity and honesty," said Owens, 32, who was in the Army's 101st Airborne.
But unemployment among veterans has become so widespread that even the educated are jobless.
James Haydon, 55, has a bachelor's degree in computer information systems. He is now homeless.
He stays at the shelter run by Everybody's Tabernacle in Clearwater. He is provided with the essentials, but what he really needs he is left without — a job.
"There's two things against me" when it comes to getting hired: "I haven't worked in 2 1/2 years, and I'm older than the rest of the workforce," he said.
Some veterans are taking this personally.
"We're disgusted. This is what we've done (for our country), and this is what we're getting," Welsh said.
Veterans are using the job fair as a chance to show employers who they truly are.
"Back in the day, you went to sell yourself," Welsh said. "But now, (the application process) is all over the Internet. It's very impersonal."
Friday, Owens hopes to find a job where he can use his computer skills. Welsh hopes to get back into mechanics.
"We can't forget what these people have done for us," said Muriel Boysen, veterans placement specialist for Abilities of Florida. "We have to realize these men and women need to get back to work because they're the ones that made us free."
Sabrina Rocco can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8862.