(Left to Right) SFC Thomas Cross and MSG Bryan Wagner speak with Ardina Fox and Bella Taylor, recruiters for Northrop Grumman Technical Services. Noel St. John

Legion pursues Pepsi grant for vet jobs

As one of its founding pillars, The American Legion has long been committed to helping separating servicemembers reintegrate into civilian life. Included in that is a dedication to help veterans find rewarding jobs and business opportunities. A Legion commitment that dates back to World War I, career support for veterans has evolved in recent decades, and nearly 140 Legion-affiliated events – business workshops, job fairs and career expos – are conducted each year.

In a struggling economy that has been particularly tough on veterans, the need to find employment for the men and women who served our country has never been greater. That’s why The American Legion is trying to greatly increase the number of veteran career events it produces or supports. Pepsi’s Refresh Project contest presents the perfect opportunity.

The Legion will re-enter the Pepsi Refresh Project contest for the month of August with its veterans career fairs initiative as the beneficiary. Voting has officially begun. The contest, which the Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program won in February, will award a $250,000 grant to the first and second-place finishers. Funds from the February award are still being used to give wounded warriors items like sweatsuits, DVD players, therapeutic athletic equipment and duffle bags. Should the Legion win again, the money will be used to fund career fairs, which will provide veterans, servicemembers and their families with everything from on-site job interviews to resume-writing assistance. It costs nothing to cast a daily vote for the Legion’s job fairs initiative through the month.

Undoubtedly, the need to employ veterans has never been greater. An estimated one-fifth of the nation’s homeless population has a background of military service. Around 107,000 veterans are on the street on any given night and twice as many experience a similar hardship at some point each year. Many other veterans, particularly those who are ages 18 to 24, are considered near homeless or at risk of it because of income-related issues.

The unemployment numbers for former servicemembers, particularly young ones, are equally concerning. The unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan currently sits around 14 percent. It was reported in 2009 that nearly 21 percent of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who are ages 18 to 24, are without a job. That number is up 7 percent from 2008, and is also well above the 16.6-percent unemployment rate for non-veterans of roughly the same ages.

The American Legion’s job fairs climbed to 17th in voting early on Aug. 5. It was in 306th place just a day earlier.

Visit the Pepsi Refresh Web site and cast your vote daily. Spread the news of our voting efforts with social media tools like Twitter and Facebook. Help us help the men and women have served so unselfishly!