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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Why wait for Washington? LI can help jobless vets now

Long Island veterans need jobs.

Too many are unemployed, in a region where veterans' employment rates usually trend higher than those of all other groups.

Not so anymore. And, yes, that's because of the recession. But it's also because some of those veterans - especially those who have survived multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan - are having a terrible time trying to readjust to civilian life, veterans' advocates say.

That's why Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's bill to provide job training services for veterans is so welcome. But the region doesn't have to wait for help to come from Washington.

Whenever local veterans have been in need, Long Islanders have stepped forward. To raise money. To donate clothing. Or run, bike or walk local races, such as the 5K slated next month at Long Island MacArthur Airport.

Now is the time for jobs. Let's get local veterans back to work.

Long Island is veterans' territory. A region steeped in the tradition of service. Suffolk County is home to the largest number of veterans in New York State. Nassau ranks second.

And there's reason for that.

Long Island is where World War II veterans settled down. They settled almost everywhere, as housing developments remade the regions' dusty plains and Nassau potato fields left fallow by an invasion of golden nematodes.

And those veterans, with aid from the GI education bill, went on to work in the region's muscular defense industry, at companies like Grumman. And then they had children, who had children, many of whom followed in their footsteps by serving in the military.

Today, even with a declining population of older vets, 175,000 to 200,000 veterans live in Nassau and Suffolk. "Children who have parents or grandparents in the military are more liable to join the military than children whose parents did not serve," said Thomas Ronayne, director of the Suffolk County veteran service agency.

"That's why there are so many veterans on Long Island, and why so many kids from Nassau and Suffolk volunteered to join the military after 9/11," he said.

Today, the Long Island unemployment rate for veterans is estimated at 15 to 25 percent, advocates for veterans say. As many as one in four vets are seeking work.

"We just hired a Marine," Edward Mangano, the Nassau County executive, said Monday. "We needed someone with logistical skills and he more than fit the bill."

Both Nassau and Suffolk are working to convince other employers that local veterans stand ready to help. "We're working on jobs and on housing, which are two key areas where young and older veterans need help," Mangano said.

"Gone are the days when a soldier learned [just] rifle skills," said Ronayne. "Men and women are coming home with computer skills, electronics, equipment and automobile repair skills. These are marketable skills."

Come October, for the first time, said Mangano, Nassau and Suffolk will combine efforts for a veterans' employment fair, working through the office of Rep. Steve Israel.

At Suffolk's fair last year, 40 employers showed up, Ronayne said. "This year, we're already getting requests from businesses that want to come," he said.

Why wait?

If you're an employer and you want to hire a veteran, call 516-572-8451 in Nassau or 631-853-VETS in Suffolk.

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