'Veterans need opportunities': New business in Fairfield provides help to veterans

Sean-Michael Green knows the feeling of loss that can come with leaving the military and returning to civilian life.

He was failing out of high school and decided to join the Marines in 1988. He served in Panama during the First Gulf War. He then left active duty, joining the Selective Marine Corp Reserve, where he served from 1992 to 2000. Since then he’s become an entrepreneur and taken on a career in higher education.

“It’s such a culture shock when you leave the military,” said Green, an Orange resident. “It makes you question who you are and how you fit into society.”

Now he’s looking to help other veterans navigate that switch with his new franchise, JDog Junk Removal and Hauling. The business opened less than a month ago in Fairfield and serves nearly 20 towns from New Haven out to the New York line.

JDog, which is a national company, is franchised by and employs veterans and their families. It also donates the items it collects that can be used again to veterans in need.

“Veterans need opportunities,” Green said, adding the military is a completely volunteer-based organization and those serving have sacrificed more. “They’ve stepped up and raised their hand to do something most people won’t do.”

Green already owns a number of businesses but decided to start a JDog franchise after hearing about and seeing his brother’s experience. Both his brother and father were in the Marines too.

“It’s about helping veterans,” Green said.

Connecticut’s annual unemployment average for veterans was 5.5 percent last year, which is higher than a dozen or so states but below the national average, according to a study published by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The national unemployment rate for all veterans increased to 6.5 percent last year due to the COVID pandemic, and rose to 7.3 percent for any veteran who served since 2001, according to the study.

“(Employment) is a major factor in achieving and maintaining housing security, which further supports a more stable overall physical and mental health of veterans,” said Thomas J. Saadi, commissioner for the state Department of Veterans Affairs. “When a veteran is unemployed and facing housing insecurity, there is often a commensurate negative impact on both physical and mental health caused by the stressors of such a situation and the ability to attend regular appointments.”

Tim Rockefeller, the state Department of Labor’s local veterans employment representative, said veteran unemployment has geneally improved.

“There are better educational benefits for veterans now and more recognition for the leadership that veterans bring to a civilian organization,” he said.

Transition

One of the advantages to having a business so focused on veterans is that it helps connect them with others who understand what they’re experiencing, Green said.

“My goal for everybody is for them to outgrow what I’m doing with them,” he said.

Green currently employs seven people, all part-time for now, though he hopes to grow his crew to about 25 people and add more trucks. The Marines, Army and Navy are currently represented.

“Veterans and transitioning service members have a lot to bring to the table; but it is a transition and it’s important that veterans know we have resources to help,” Rockefeller said. “Veterans can lose a sense of purpose when they leave the military — for some, their workplace may have been combat, so it’s a big change when they come back to civilian life. In the military you are responsible for the lives of the people who stand next to you, and they always have your back. That’s a very different culture.”

He said they might struggle translating their military experience into something civilians will understand when applying for a job.

“Veterans also may have difficulty communicating their skills as an individual since they really work as a team, so we help them learn how to define their value to an organization,” said Rockefeller, a combat veteran who served two tours. “Veterans themselves may not realize how their skills translate. For example, it’s common in the military for a young 20-something to command a small unit and millions of dollars in equipment — in the civilian world that’s rare.”

Green said most veterans decide to stay where they were last stationed when they leave the service. But Connecticut only really has the Groton base and the Coast Guard Academy so Green said most of the state’s veterans are people moving back.

“Connecticut in general is a strange state for veterans,” he said, adding there are people deeply connected to the military, those not at all and not really many in between.

He said the state offers great resources though.

Resources

Saadi said it’s not a lack of programs and services to support our veterans, but too often a lack of connecting those veterans in need with those existing resources. He said there needs to be more communication with local and state social service providers, employers and advocacy groups, as well as better online messaging.

Rockefeller said there are a variety or resources for both veterans looking for a job and businesses looking to hire veterans.

“Mentorship programs, such as American Corporate Partners, offers guidance to people transitioning from the military,” he said.

A veterans case manager at an American Job Center can help with resume writing, breaking down military language and ensure potential employers understand their qualifications and experience, he said.

Businesses can work with local veteran employment representatives to hire qualified veterans and also join the Department of Labor’s Hire Veterans Medallion program to be recognized for their veteran hiring and retention programs.

Businesses can also set up veteran affinity groups so veterans there can help mentor new ones and recruit more veteran applicants.

Rockefeller also encourages veterans to take advantage of the post 9/11 GI Bill or the Veteran Affairs’ Chapter 31 Veterans Readiness and Employment Program for educational benefits.

“The post 9/11 GI Bill is more generous than previous educational benefits,” he said. “Every community college and state university in Connecticut now has a Veterans Oasis where veterans can decompress and network with other veterans. This helps with the transition process and lets veterans know they are not alone during their adjustment process.”

Green said education is the biggest thing for veterans entering civilian life.

“That’s the silver bullet,” he said. “Employment is the next thing.”

He’s earned several degrees since leaving the military, including his law degree, and has worked as a professor and vice president at various colleges in Connecticut. Working for Albertus Magnus and University of New Haven is actually what brought him to Connecticut from his native Pennsylvania.

Green’s taking a break from his higher education work so he can grow his businesses, especially JDog.

“The biggest thing people can take away is we’re here to serve people with integrity and trust,” Green said.