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Greenwich Nonprofit Offers Care for Veterans

For Greenwich veterans returning from war, one of the biggest challenges can be finding a job, according to the Greenwich Military Covenant of Care, an organization that supports soldiers and their families.

“We’ve found that every situation is so different, because human lives and human stories are so different,” said Bruce Winningham, co-founder of the nonprofit organization created at the request of the federal government. “It requires an entire town to be ready to tackle the diversity of challenges these men and women have when they come back.”

The covenant adopted an infantry unit of 500 men sent to Afghanistan last year, the Alpha Company 1st Battalion of the 102nd Infantry Regiment of the Connecticut Army National Guard. While the members were away, the covenant provided some financial support to their families. In November, the regiment returned from their tour, but few soldiers needed to call the covenant for help despite high unemployment statistics for veterans.

“It was a surprise to us that military families weren’t calling us, but we had to find them,” said Winningham. “It’s not in the nature of a military family to ask for civilian help.”

In 2010, the unemployment rate for veterans who served at any time since September 2001 was 11.5 percent, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics . Veterans who were current or past members of the Reserve or National Guard had an unemployment rate of 14 percent in July 2010, compared with a rate of 12.1 percent for veterans who had not been members. The total jobless rate for veterans of all eras combined was 8.7 percent, compared with 9.4 percent for non-veterans.

Sixty-one percent of employers do not believe they have “a complete understanding of the qualifications ex-service members offer,” according to a study.

Winningham said one young serviceman drove fuel trucks in Afghanistan to stockpile various bases. Before he came home, his wife asked whether the covenant could help him look for a job because the man wanted to continue driving.

“It was the first thing she asked for,” he said. The group brought together Selectman David Theis and executives to help the man find a job. “He was awarded a job based upon his merits, but we were able to make introductions, help him write a resume and open doors,” said Winningham.

The group helps get the word out through other veterans groups such as the Women’s Auxiliary of the Byram Veterans, social services, the Greenwich Fellowship of Clergy, as well as police and fire departments. “We are seen as trusted with information and knowledge,” said Winningham, adding the covenant is buying baby clothes and food for some families, helping with job searches and throwing welcome home parties. “It’s as wide-ranging as the human drama.”

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