Job Training Program Founded by Vietnam Veterans Expands
NEW YORK (AP) _ Charles Scott has been through two wars, several jobs and a lot of ups and downs. Now, he says, ″I’m 57 and I feel like I’m 27.″
Scott is about to graduate from the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program, which was started by the kind of veterans rarely heard from - well-adjusted, well-off and relatively untroubled by their war experience.
″It’s successful vets helping vets who haven’t quite made it in the mainstream,″ said the program’s 44-year-old president and co-founder, Gene Gitelson, who led an infantry platoon in Vietnam in 1966 and 1967 as an Army first lieutenant.
Among its founders, board members and staffers are lawyers, investment bankers and executives of every pinstripe. The chairman of the board, Doug Greenlaw, earned a Silver Star in Vietnam and is an executive with MTV.
Gitelson, a former banker and management consultant, started the program six years ago in his apartment.
″We kept each other alive in Vietnam, with this enormous buddy network. And now, 20 years later, we’re rebuilding a network and helping each other in an economic war, to get into the mainstream,″ he said.
Today, in a ceremony at Vietnam Veterans Plaza here, the non-profit group is celebrating its move to a 10,000-square-foot office, courtesy of Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc., and the donation of $100,000 worth of computer equipment from IBM.
About 750 veterans have been placed in jobs through the program, which is a pilot for similiar efforts in other cities, Gitelson said.
Gitelson heads a staff of 24, most of them Vietnam vets and many who have gone through the program. A placement director, for instance, used to be homeless, living behind an elevator shaft in the south Bronx.
″We believe the experience of serving in combat gave people skills, abilities and values that are transferable to the mainstream life,″ Gitelson said.
The 57-year-old Scott, of Brooklyn, was in the Air Force during the Korean War and an Army platoon sergeant in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. After 12 years with the New York Army National Guard, he started his own business, a parking garage, but was forced to give it up when the rent went too high.
Welfare and part-time work came next, and then he saw a television ad for the program.
″It was one of the best things I ever did,″ he said. ″They don’t give you a job, but they prepare you for a job.″
The first stage, called ″Basic Training,″ involves tests of skills, intellect and personality that determine what kind of job the vet is best suited for.
Psychological and medical testing, Gitelson said, have uncovered ″brain injuries no one ever treated before.″ Group discussions, classroom work and counseling lead to instruction in how to prepare resumes and handle job interviews.
Gitelson said 60 percent of the participants had been unemployed for six to nine months when they entered the program; 50 percent were transients.
″We’re not talking about the easy guys,″ he said. ″But they’re wonderful guys, with talent, who have somehow fallen on deaf ears.″
The jobs they find are split 50-50 blue collar and white collar, he said, averaging $18,000 annual starting pay, mostly with small and medium-sized businesses and public agencies.
The program started as simply a job placement service. When an effort began to build a memorial in New York to Vietnam vets, Gitelson’s group supported it at public hearings.
″We wore suits - everyone else was in jungle fatigues,″ he said. ″We said we also have to do something about those who are living.″
Fifty cents of every dollar contributed to the memorial was earmarked for a jobs program, and VVLP was selected as that program with $500,000 to start. It is also supported by state and federal funds.