By Rudy Gaona
Army National Guard, Warehouse Worker Aid, LAC+USC Medical Center
I enlisted in the Army National Guard when I was 18 years old. I still remember the day. Ironically it was Sept. 11, 1990. I joined the Army because I wanted to serve my country. I’ve served in a peace-keeping mission in Sinai Egypt and most recently I served in Iraq. In fact, I came home from Iraq in July 2008.
I can’t even begin to share with you how difficult it is coming home from war. In my opinion, that’s when the true injuries of war become visible. Every day I deal with the fact that I am no longer the man that I was before I got deployed. That happy-go-lucky guy died in Iraq.
Watch a video about the challenges veterans face in finding good jobs after leaving the service
Every day I deal with the anger, guilt, sadness and disappointment that sometimes consumes me out of frustration. Frustration because civilians don’t seem to care or want to be bothered with what our soldiers do for us overseas. Guilt over the fact that I came home alive to my family and so many of my brothers did not. Sadness over the fact that I don’t feel like a real man anymore. Disappointment over not having filled my career expectations – mainly because my deployments have prevented me from getting my college degree.
The most painful part about this is the impact it has on my family. I have a beautiful wife and a young son and I know that my range of emotions hurts them. Frankly, I’m surprised that my family is still intact.
The one thing I am truly grateful for has been my job.
When I came home I was fortunate to go back to work for the County of Los Angeles delivering medical supplies to hospital wards. I thought work would be good for me because it would help me keep my mind off things, but eventually my emotional issues would creep up there too.
Upon returning home I asked my boss if I could move to the night shift so that I could go back to school during the day and he approved my request. Unfortunately working nights made things worse for me. Driving at night, especially over bridges brought back too many memories of Iraq. It got so bad once while I was driving to work that I began to have flashbacks. I began to shake and cry uncontrollably. I scraped my car up against the center divider.
I realized then, that things had to change. When I went to my employer and my union, SEIU 721, they were very responsive and supportive. My union shop steward and coworkers even went as far as collecting signatures for me to facilitate me transfer to a day shift.
Lucky for me I had a supportive network through my employer and my union. Most soldiers don’t. Taking into account what we’ve gone through and all of the emotional baggage we have to live with, the last thing we should have to deal with are issues at work that can be easily resolved. Most soldiers aren’t this lucky.
While we take the time this Veterans Day to honor the courage and sacrifice shown by our veterans, we should also rededicate ourselves to making sure vets have a secure and stable life after they finish their service.
Rudy Gaona, a LAC+USC Medical Center employee and a member of the SEIU 721 Executive Board, delivered this testimony at a town Hall meeting last year with Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, where veterans spoke about the challenges they face in finding good jobs after they leave the service.
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