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Disabled Vets Create Jobs At Business Boot Camp

As the U.S. unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, many recent veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are finding it increasingly difficult to compete for jobs in the civilian work force. If they’re disabled, the task is all uphill, so some disabled vets are finding a way to create their own jobs through a business boot camp at several colleges throughout the country.

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Unemployment in the U-S is still hovering around 10 percent. But there was a tiny bright spot in the most recent job numbers: the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans dropped by almost two percentage points between July and August. Still, the number of jobless veterans remains high; some estimates say more than 175,000 are out of work. It’s even more difficult to find a job if you are a disabled vet.

Nancy Farghalli reports on a program to help disabled vets create their own opportunities.

NANCY FARGHALLI: Roughly 180,000 vets have returned from the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with a disability, including Josh Evans. He’s a retired Marine pilot. He completed four tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, and he suffers from acute hearing loss.

Mr. JOSH EVANS (Retired Marine Pilot): When I went to do my last audiogram, the guy showed me my results and he said, listen, your hearing loss right here. It’s in the voice range, so it makes it a little difficult to pick up some stuff. I was like, can you write a letter and tell my wife that?

FARGHALLI: Evans likes to joke, but he’s serious about one thing: never leaving his family again. He has a daughter and a son, and a third child on the way.

Mr. EVANS: One of the things I missed out a lot with when I was in the Marine Corps was spending time with my daughter. When my son was born, it was a no-brainer that if I was going to work, I could work from home.

FARGHALLI: Evans decided to apply an entrepreneurship boot camp for disabled vets at UCLA. He sent in an essay, recommendation letters, and did an interview. And he had one goal in mind: to learn the skills to run a security business from his own home.

(Soundbite of door closing)

FARGHALLI: The door to his first floor office has a tendency to get stuck, but that’s a small wrinkle for this budding entrepreneur. He and his partner have sold security systems to the University of California. And he says the boot camp shaped his business plan.

Mr. EVANS: It helped me sort of become more analytical about planning the business, setting milestones and then actually sort measuring myself against it. So, you come up with a measure plan and then execute the plan

FARGHALLI: The boot camp started at Syracuse in 2007. They are now at other colleges such as Florida State, UCLA, U Conn and Texas A&M. Mike Haynie is an entrepreneurship professor at Syracuse. He created the boot camps because he saw a natural fit between being an entrepreneur and a solider. Both require the same skill sets.

Professor MIKE HAYNIE (Entrepreneurship, Syracuse University): Things like a single-minded focus on accomplishing a goal or accomplishing the mission. Being able to create and grow something without necessarily having the resources at your disposal to do that. That is entrepreneurship.

FARGHALLI: More than 300 vets have completed the intense free seminar training – about nine days of spreadsheets, strategy, and marketing courses. A lot of the program’s funding comes from companies and private donations. The cost at each school can range from 100 to $200,000.

Elaine Hagan runs the boot camp at UCLA. She says the college got involved because of the needs of disabled vets.

Ms. ELAINE HAGAN (UCLA): Often because of the nature of their disability, they can’t continue in the line of work that they were in. But entrepreneurship often gives them the possibility to generate an income by helping not only themselves and their families, but also creating jobs in their communities.

FARGHALLI: California sets aside a small percentage of its annual contracting dollars to businesses owned by disabled vets, and Josh Evans’ company has bid on state contracts. While he’s thankful for the boot camp, he does wish the program classes lasted longer.

Mr. EVANS: Its kind of like having the Cliff Notes version of business school in a way. You know, you just, you know there’s more in there and you’re missing a lot of it by not having the rest of it.

FARGHALLI: There aren’t official stats on the number of successful enterprises run by vets in the program, but more than 10 percent of the attendees have started their own businesses. And more colleges are considering the boot camp program.

For NPR News, I’m Nancy Farghalli in Los Angeles. (by NANCY FARGHALLI)

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