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Nonprofit to open Wounded Warriors career facility in Pittsburgh

| Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, 11:59 p.m.

A New York City-based group plans to open a center in Pittsburgh to help wounded veterans get jobs or the schooling they need to find work.

The nonprofit National Organization on Disability began its Wounded Warriors Careers project in Fayetteville, N.C., Dallas and Colorado Springs, and intends to add the Pittsburgh facility next month. Nationally, the Department of Veterans Affairs rates 166,000 military personnel from Iraq and Afghanistan at least 60 percent disabled, said Carol Glazer, the organization's president.

“This is a special group of people who have performed an extraordinary service to Pittsburgh and the country, and we owe it to them to be helpful,” said Grant Oliphant, president of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

The foundation gave $45,000 for the center, part of $1.2 million pledged over two or three years by The Heinz Endowments and the Richard King Mellon, Hillman and Jewish Healthcare foundations.

The organization's track record is good — jobs, education or training for about two-thirds of veterans with whom it works. That's about twice the rate for those who do not get help through the program, Glazer said.

It serves 300 wounded warriors and could help at least 100 in Pittsburgh, where many troops come from the National Guard or reserve units, she said.

The organization reaches out to veterans rather than waiting for them to ask for help, and it works with their families. The guidance continues for at least three years.

“We know a lot of times the first job is often not the right place to land,” Glazer said. “If that first job turns out not to be the right fit, we want to stay with them.”

Developing a career plan can start with determining what interests the person. A career specialist might accompany the veteran to campus or a job interview.

Many veterans are reluctant to talk about the difficulties they encounter when translating military training into the civilian world, Glazer said. None agreed to be interviewed for this story.

With advances in medical care, military men and women are surviving injuries that would have killed them a generation ago, Oliphant said. The challenge is to help them adapt, especially if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

“As we wind down the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the danger is these veterans will be forgotten,” Oliphant said. “We want to make sure they're not forgotten.”

The Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania, a South Side-based group, is helping the center get started. Eventually, Glazer said, another group might take over its operation.

“Turning this program over to someone else makes absolute sense, and it makes absolute sense for it to be the Veterans Leadership Program,” said Al Mercer, executive director of that program. “We're already plugged into the network they need to be plugged into.”

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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