Staff Sgt. Willie Ewings was devastated when he was medically retired from the Army.
“I was really hurt,” Ewings said of being medically discharged in January following a knee injury and a diagnosis of sleep apnea. “I came in at a time our country was at war. (Being deployed) changed the way I looked at things. I didn’t want to get out of the military. ... I made the decision that I wanted to make a career out of it.”
Forced into retirement, the veteran said exiting the military was a jumble of paperwork. While his unemployment and disability benefits were delayed, he struggled to provide for his wife and children.
Two weeks ago, Ewings, who deployed three times as a combat medic, learned about American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps unemployed veterans.
In 2012, about 211,000 Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans were unemployed, according to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ website.
Ewings said the military didn’t prepare him to enter the civilian world. But, the nonprofit understood his needs.
“I had the experience, I just didn’t have the verbiage in my resume to get that job,” he said. “We tailored the resume to that job.”
After nearly five months of searching for employment, Ewings will start a job as a medical contractor at Fort Hood this week.
The nonprofit opened an office in Killeen to assist soldiers like Ewings who are transitioning out of the military, said Robert A. Cano, director of client services at the organization’s headquarters in San Antonio.
“You could go to other places and just because it has ‘helps veterans’ advertised, doesn’t mean they know your situation,” Ewings said. However, the local nonprofit specifically serves veterans who are 34 years old and younger.
The Killeen office began providing free services in February, including employment counseling, direct job placement and personalized case management to include resume writing.
The program offers transportation assistance in the form of gas vouchers to veterans who are enrolled in the program, meet the income need requirements and are actively seeking full-time employment.
The local office also has a computer lab where veterans can fax or email applications.
“We get customers coming in daily,” said Melissa Giles, case manager at the Killeen office. Since opening, they’ve served about 20 veterans.
The nonprofit received a $750,000 grant from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to fund the Killeen office during its first year.
“It’s great when we’re able to help them,” she said. “When they come in (asking for assistance) and we’re able to help them, that’s the best success story.”
In Killeen, Cano said he hopes between 50 and 60 unemployed veterans age 34 and younger find jobs. The Wal-Mart Foundation wanted to target younger veterans, who may not have as much experience as older veterans.
“Statewide, we’re looking at helping over 700 veterans across the state (this year),” he said. “Ideally, we want to place 500 of them into permanent, full-time employment.”
American GI Forum National Veterans Outreach Program Inc. is a nonprofit organization that helps unemployed or underemployed veterans 34 years old and younger find employment.
The local office is open from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1711 E. Central Texas Expressway, Suite 100A, in Killeen. For more information, call (254) 200-0630.