That's especially hard on younger vets who enlisted straight from high school and have little or no work history. "A large majority are going into the job market with their eyes closed," he says. "We need to help them make informed decisions" so they know where there are growth industries.
Schmiegel says human resource managers and recruiters also need to be better educated to understand most vets with post-traumatic stress can function fine in the workplace. A 2010 poll conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found 46 percent of those of those surveyed thought PTSD or other mental health issues could be a challenge when hiring people with military experience.
That survey, of 429 human resource managers, found 60 percent felt the same way about transferring military skills to the civilian workplace.
Caleb Wohlford never expected that problem. He'd been a cargo specialist in Iraq and worked for a cardboard company before deploying, so he figured he'd settle into factory work back home in Kokomo, Ind.
In two years, he found just one job — in construction — but that ended last October when business dried up. After six months of unemployment, an aunt told him about an opening at her factory. He's set to start next week, operating a forklift.
"I honestly didn't think it would be this difficult," Wohlford says. "When you get out of the military, they tell you there are all these people out there begging to give you a job (because you're a vet). There's not anybody. You're in the same race as everybody else. ... It's miserable being out of work."
The timing of his offer couldn't be better. Wohlford says his unemployment had expired, his bills were mounting and he and his wife were stretching her income from selling cosmetics from home to support six kids, ages 7 to 12. They also had no health insurance.
"It's an amazing relief," Wohlford says. "I almost can't wait to take my kids to the eye doctor. Now it won't be so much of a burden."
Wohlford 's success came after he'd applied for more than 100 jobs. He couldn't even get rehired at his old factory, though he says he left on good terms. "I didn't think they owed me that job," he says. "But I don't see how I couldn't meet the requirements. I don't see how anyone could better meet the requirements."
He's grateful, too, for the new opportunity, knowing his family connection was crucial. "I got lucky," he says. "I knew somebody in the right place."
Marcus Washington is hoping for his break, having returned from Iraq last fall after his third tour.
While scouting out potential employers at the Chicago job fair, he confessed that after being in the Army much of the last 11 years, looking for work is "somewhat intimidating .. Military experience should count for something. If you weigh it on a scale, it should be the same as a college degree."
After one tour in Iraq, Washington, 30, became a prison guard in Arkansas, but didn't like the atmosphere, so he re-enlisted, he says, partly because of the regular salary.
Washington says he's taking job tips from his fiancée, a human resources manager, but it takes some adjustment. "When you trade your combat boots for a shirt and tie and you hope someone hires you, it's hard convincing them and," he says, "it's hard convincing myself that I can compete for a job."
Matthew Pizzo has the confidence, but it hasn't made a difference — yet.
He enlisted at 17 — he was scheduled to report for basic training on Sept. 11, 2001 — and when he finished his Air Force duty in Iraq, he earned a bachelor's degree in international business at the University of Colorado. He started looking for work before graduation but didn't know how to write a good resume or how to network.
"I never got any training on how the civilian world operates," he says. "Nothing prepared me." The military has an extensive transition assistance program to smooth the way out of the military, but Pizzo says when he left in 2005, it offered little guidance. Despite improvements, some vets still believe more needs to be done.