Giving Thanks to Vets

Just in time for Thanksgiving, former U.S. Army Sgt. Edward Chinchilla received a turkey and a box of holiday goods from Vons. He also took home a certificate of appreciation for his service to our nation from the California Assembly presented by 53rd District California Assemblywoman Betsy Butler. Even more welcome: three days before being recognized at the Thanksgiving Giveaway Brunch Honoring Veterans,  – along with JVS Veterans First and former Workforce Development Director Angie Cooper  – Chinchilla got a job. He starts work this week as a human resources (HR) aide at Adams Communication and Engineering Technology.(ACET)

“It’s been a long-time coming,” said Chinchila who will be groomed for a management position. “I’ve been searching for a job for a good year, and when I got that call, I was ecstatic, kind of speechless even. It was like, ‘I can’t believe I finally got a job!’”

In the U.S. Army, where he served from 2004-2011, Chinchilla was a human resources specialist who also did administrative support for high level executives. At one point, he was in charge of an installation of more than 3,000 employees. During his seven years in the service, Chinchilla served in Korea, in Maryland and in Northern California.

When he left the Army, Chinchilla found himself facing a tough job market as well as other barriers.

“Employers don’t understand military jargon or some of the things we did. Some of them didn’t’ see what we did as transferable skills,” said Chinchilla. “They say, ‘You did information technology (IT), so why would you want to work in entertainment? How would that contribute to us?’ That’s one of the main reasons that lots of veterans have had a hard time trying to find a job.”

There’s also, he said, a stigma associated with veterans, particularly if they have been in combat. Are they stable? Might they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Employers can’t say this, of course.

“Not directly,” said Chinchilla. “They’ll say, ‘We want someone with a degree rather than work experience.’ There would be times where they would ask us to explain what something means and we would try to, for lack of a better word, dumb it down for them, and we still wouldn’t find jobs. Hopefully in the future, there will be liaisons for companies and corporations to help bridge that gap.”

Pete Forster, account executive for JVS Veterans First, had attended a recent job fair where he encountered a representative from ACET who said he was looking to hire a veteran for a specific opening. Programs officials put Chinchilla and ACET together and, the day after his interview, Chinchilla was employed.

"JVS has been so helpful," Chinchilla said. "Because of them, I have this job."

Gratitude for our servicemen and women was every bit on the menu at the Thanksgiving Giveaway Brunch co-sponsored by the West L.A. Employer Advisory Council, Employment Development Department (EDD), JVS, the Native American Veterans Association and the International Association of Workforce Professionals LA Chapter.

Assemblywoman Butler, the daughter of a U.S. Air Force reservist, said she "understands how much sacrifice those who serve have made for us" and noted that she had authored several bills benefiting veterans.

More than 25 veterans were honored and selected to receive Thanksgiving baskets including several

who had taken part in JVS’ Veterans First, a program to help veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts transition to civilian life with career counseling and job retraining. At the event, Vons market was selected the Veteran Employer of the Year and Angie Cooper, former JVS Director of Workforce Development, was honored with the agency as Veteran Service Provider of the Year.

Jerry Woods, Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist with West LA Workforces Services lauded JVS: “By empowering people t o become economically independent, they have enhanced quality of lives of individuals, families and communities.”

JVS Veterans First Program Manager Jessica Cheng accepted the award. Cooper, who retired from the agency recently, was unable to attend. Also in attendance from the agency were Forster, Client Services Manager Pat Dial and Lead Case Manager Donald Perry who sang "God Bless America."