Local resources help former military members get back on their feet

Men and women have started returning home from the decade-long Iraq War, and while many are overjoyed to be reunited with family, adjusting to civilian life often becomes a challenge.

That’s where employees and volunteers from organizations downtown and in Paradise step in to help these veterans.

Dennis Larson, president of the Key Foundation, 1001 A St., deals with mostly Vietnam War veterans, but recently he has dealt with men and women who arrive home and face several struggles.

“I talk to a lot of (veterans) who say the (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs office) doesn’t do anything for them,” Larson said. “A lot of them have a hard time finding jobs. Oftentimes, (veterans) left areas that weren’t so bad, but they get back on the marketplace, and they can’t find a job that fits them.”

Finding jobs, especially during a rough economic time, is hard enough for anyone. Veterans, however, face different — and sometimes more — hardships in job hunting, according to John Lundburg of RecruitMilitary, which hosted a Jan. 26 veterans job fair at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“Somebody who may have joined the military four years ago, they come back now, and Las Vegas is not so fruitful,” Lundberg said. “It’s knowing where to go. It’s knowing how their skill sets lined up (with) what employers are looking for. The biggest challenge they have is being able to articulate how those (military skills) translate.”

Places such as the Key Foundation, United States Veterans-Las Vegas, 525 E. Bonanza Road, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1753, 705 Las Vegas Blvd. North, offer services to assist veterans with job searches and obtaining benefits after their service.

But obstacles these men and women face extend beyond looking for jobs. Doug Bradford, director of the USO Center at McCarran International Airport, 5757 Wayne Newton Blvd., said some of the hardest challenges that veterans face involve their families.

“For most of them, there’s a 30-day readjustment period when they come home,” Bradford said. “Ones with families now have another parent figure in the household, and they have to adjust to that.”

Bradford said the airport’s USO Center, which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, serves as a transitional center for military personnel coming from various places throughout the country and heading to bases in Nevada and California.

Even with soldiers and those from other military branches coming home more than they have in a couple of years, there are still some who have to travel and serve overseas. USO volunteers are often among the first people these traveling military personnel see before or after getting on a plane, and making them feel at home, Bradford said, is a top priority.

“We really try to create lasting kinds of memories for men and women here,” Bradford said. “It’s really an exciting feel, being in the military service. Our primary mission is to share this and help active-duty families.”

Bradford said that since the center opened in November 2010, USO staff members and volunteers have served more than 36,000 people in the military. He said 11,000 of those have been in the past three months.

Paul Plotnick, a volunteer with the USO Center, said talking with active-duty military members and their families is the reason why he donates time to the USO.

“This is the highlight of my day,” Plotnick said as he stood in the center, looking at a soldier heading off to Afghanistan later that afternoon, talking to his wife and son. “They’re so appreciative, and it’s a really nice way to give back.”

Aixa Duffy, who also volunteers at the USO Center, has two sons in the U.S. Army. Duffy said she connects with these soldiers and their families on a personal level and knows the difficulties that come with leaving and coming home, even for a short amount of time.

“My favorite part about volunteering is just serving and helping (military members),” Duffy said. “It’s important that the community supports them.”

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at lcarter@viewnews.com or 383-4686.

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