Khy Benedetti spent 24 years in the U.S. Navy serving as a chief, a technical instructor and a diplomatic attaché to the Italian Navy.
But back in Sonoma County, after an honorable discharge and eight months of sending out cover letters, Benedetti hasn't landed a job.
“I've really been trying to crack the code as to how you find a job as an experienced professional and veteran in Sonoma County,” said Benedetti, 44. “It's been eight months, and I'm very frustrated ... I was the guy who represented the face of America.”
Benedetti was one of 1,000 job seekers who attended the second annual Veterans Resource and Job Fair, held at the Santa Rosa Veterans Building on Wednesday. Among the attendees were 200 veterans, said Terry Grumley, disabled veterans representative for the Employment Development Department.
The fair, organized by a coalition of veterans groups, aimed to help veterans make the transition from military service to civilian life. In one room, 57 employers with about 1,000 job openings recruited candidates. Meanwhile, volunteers from Vet Connect and other groups shared information about available services for veterans.
“Coming out of the military into civilian life is almost like coming from a different country,” Grumley said. “It's a different culture, and in many ways it's a more accountable culture.”
Veterans make great employees because they're detail-oriented, they know how to accomplish a mission and they don't make excuses, Grumley added.
Nationwide, 7.1 percent of veterans were unemployed in March, slightly better than the general population, which had a rate of 7.4 percent unemployment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But among those who served since September 2001, the unemployment rate was higher, at 9.2 percent in March.
In Sonoma County, veterans have had a higher unemployment rate than non-veterans in recent years. In 2011, the five-year average for unemployment among veterans was 9.7 percent, compared to 8.4 percent among non-veterans, according to data provided by the Employment Development Department.
The job fair also attracted those who have been touched by the losses that war brings. Linda Kynoch, who lost her son in the Iraq war in 2005, was looking for a job that could help her achieve her long-term goal of helping veterans through equine therapy.
Among the employers and outreach groups were veterans hoping to help their fellow service men and women. Marine Corps League member Matt Waters, 29, returned from Iraq with two purple hearts and a gunshot wound to the leg. After rehabilitation, he eventually got a job as a security manager at Dolby Laboratories in San Francisco.
“We're trying to steer people to where they can get help with employment,” Waters said.