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Frank Gray

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Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Marc Tjaden hopes to assist fellow vets with a job fair.

War vet carries fight for jobs home

If you’re a veteran trying to figure out what benefits you’re entitled to, it can be confusing.

That’s what Marc Tjaden found when he came home from Afghanistan in 2005.

Tjaden was injured in Afghanistan in 2004 when a bus in front of him in a caravan was destroyed by a roadside bomb. Tjaden, who was knocked unconscious in the blast, didn’t come home for nearly a year. Once home, he says he was given a two-hour debriefing about benefits he was entitled to, but he didn’t really know where to turn, and he ignored the problems that resulted from the blast.

He suffered from what he calls problems with his thought process, memory problems, occasional shaking on one side of his body and problems with anxiety. As a result, Tjaden, who has a master’s degree in labor studies, started losing jobs.

Eventually his wife stepped in and found her husband help, but the stress of trying to figure out the system took its toll on her, too, Tjaden says.

Today, Tjaden is on full disability, but he says he’s heading in the right direction.

In January, Tjaden got an idea. Why not put together a job and information fair for veterans? He could round up all the different agencies that provide services to veterans along with employers and put together what he called a one-stop event for veterans looking for assistance or work.

It’s been a lot of work, he says, but he’s learned a lot in the past few months.

“I’m finding out we have VA offices in this town that I didn’t even know we had,” Tjaden says.

At the same time Tjaden says he’s gotten a lot of cooperation from everyone he’s spoken to, and on May 10 at the National Military History Center on DeKalb County Road 11A in Auburn he will actually put on the veterans information and job fair in the center’s sprawling lobby.

Tjaden chose the Military History Center as the location for the fair because he’s a volunteer and librarian for the center – and he was allowed to use the building for free.

Among the groups scheduled to be represented are various veteran agencies, the local labor council and a program called Helmets to Hardhats.

Universities will have representatives to talk about educational opportunities that are available, along with Work One, and potential employers, including Allen County government and some private employers.

Tjaden says it isn’t just veterans who can benefit from the fair. Veterans’ spouses and even their dependents are sometimes eligible for benefits.

All in all, this veteran’s project seems to be panning out well, though it turns out there will also be a veterans’ job fair at Memorial Coliseum on the same day.

It’s just a coincidence, Tjaden says. He isn’t trying to compete. It’s just that May 10 was the only day available at the Military History Center.

Looking at the bright side, veterans will have two job fairs to go to.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him at twitter.com (@FrankGrayJG).

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