VIP: Combating veteran unemployment one job at a time

EUGENE, Ore. - A few months ago, Greg Widdicombe wondered if he'd ever find a job.

Unemployment was a problem only made worse by homelessness.

"It was a kick in the fanny being at the Mission, being homeless," the military veteran said.

Thousands of Oregon veterans share the same plight, with more than 9 percent looking for work.

The situation has improved since 2011, when the jobless rate for veterans was 11.4 percent. The civilian rate held steady at 8.3 percent.

Nationally, the trend is reversed, with the rate of unemployment for veterans a half point below the civilian rate

Fortunately for Widdicombe, he's on the job thanks to the Veterans in Progress program at St. Vincent de Paul.

The VIP program gives homeless veterans 3 months of training on how to write resumes and cover letters; coaching on interviewing for a job; help with transportation to job interviews; and another 9 months of followup coaching, if needed.

Last year, 75 of the 100 vets who went through the VIP program last year landed a job.

"They've just been under the radar for so long that they've lost social skills," said Julie Ruchti with St. Vincent de Paul. "They've lost interview skills. A lot of them don't even remember the things they can do."

Widdicombe gained new-found hope friom the program. He landed a job in January on the maintenance crew at a Springfield apartment complex.

"You know, we repair anything from exhaust fans, sink traps; we install faucets," he said.

VIP program managers said success has come by helping vets tap the hidden job market, the jobs you don't see in wanted ads, "coupled with our excellent staff work but then also motivated veterans who want to get back into the workforce," Terry McDonald with St. Vincent de Paul said.

Beyond training and assistance, Widdicombe said VIP gave him confidence.

"They tell you that you can do it, you know, you can make this happen," he said. "It takes a little hard work, but you can do it."