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VETS' JOB PROSPECTS GROWING DIMMER

Returning military members face tough work searches and lower wages.

Strained by war, recently discharged veterans are having a harder time finding civilian jobs and are more likely to earn lower wages for years partly because of employer concerns about their mental health and overall skills, a government study says.

A Veterans Affairs Department report, obtained Thursday, points to continuing problems with the Bush administration's efforts to help 4.4-million troops who have been discharged from active duty since 1990.

The 2007 study by the consulting firm Abt Associates Inc. found that 18 percent of the veterans were unemployed within one to three years of discharge, while one out of four who did find jobs earned less than $21,840 a year. Many had taken advantage of government programs such as the GI Bill to boost job prospects, but there was little evidence that education benefits yielded higher pay or better advancement.

The report blamed the poor prospects partly on inadequate job networks and lack of mentors after extended periods in war. The study said employers often had misplaced stereotypes about veterans' fitness for employment, such as concerns they did not have adequate technological skills, or were too rigid, lacked education or were at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.

It urged the federal government to consider working with a private-sector marketing firm to help promote and brand war veterans as capable employees, as well as to re-examine education and training such as the GI Bill.

"The issue of mental health has turned into a double-edged sword for returning veterans. More publicity has generated more public awareness and federal funding for those who return home different from when they left. However, more publicity - especially stories that perpetuate the 'wacko vet' myth - has also made some employers more cautious to hire a veteran," said Joe Davis, spokesman for Veterans of Foreign Wars.

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