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Career fair caters to veterans

| Thursday, Sept. 14, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

An Allegheny County man said he didn't have a hard time finding a job after four years in the Army, but he is having a hard time starting a career.

David Bagan, 28, of Forward, said he can find a job in his field -- human resources. But he can't find one that comes close to paying what he made as a sergeant in the Army or even as a roofer.

A typical entry-level position in human resources pays about $22,000 a year, he said.

"I can't pay my bills and support my wife with that," the Iraqi war veteran said while attending a veterans career fair Wednesday at the Veterans Affairs Highland Drive Division facility in Lincoln-Lemington.

Pay, housing and other allowances for a sergeant total $40,000 to $44,000, Bagan said.

He could have lived on $22,000 when he graduated from Penn State University with a degree in labor studies and industrial relations about five years ago, he said. He and his wife can't live on that now, Bagan said.

Veterans' unemployment has emerged as a side issue in the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars. A May 26 special report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the unemployment rate for the youngest veterans -- 18 to 24 -- was twice that of their non-veteran contemporaries.

Fellow roofer and Iraqi war veteran Matt Pringle, 28, of Charleroi, Washington County, is finishing his 12th year in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Pringle said he attended the career fair to see what was available.

"I'm just not going to be able to do (roofing) when I'm 50," he said.

Both said their military service was more of an asset than a liability when it came to looking for jobs. Employers know they can listen and take orders, Bagan said. The main worry probably is that they'll be hard-nosed, military guys who can't adapt to civilian routines, he said.

Clifford White, 26, of Wilkinsburg, is starting a job search after recovering from combat injuries that included two broken arms. A combat engineer in the Army Reserves, White graduated from Penn State with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications about six months before he was called to active duty.

"I feel like I missed out on three years of my life," he said.

Despite the delay, he sees his military service as more of an asset than a liability.

Carmella Dearmon, 39, of Duquesne, was at the fair looking for part-time clerical work while she attends nursing school. Dearmon retired from the Navy after 20 years. She said most employers are favorably inclined toward veterans because of their discipline and reliability. Beyond that, many employers give veterans a preference in hiring, so military service usually is more of an asset than a liability, she said.

"I think it depends on the job," Dearmon said.

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