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For wounded troops, the next battle is on the job front

  • Story Highlights
  • Troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan often have difficulty finding jobs
  • Wounded often unable to return to active service, must find civilian work
  • "Hiring Heroes" program works to match wounded troops with employers
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By Mike Mount
CNN Pentagon Producer
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. troops brought to Walter Reed Army Medical Center are among the military's most severely wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Army Capt. Scott Miller was wounded by a chemical agent while on patrol in Afghanistan.

These troops have lost body parts or have been so severely wounded their lives have changed forever.

Many will not be able to rejoin their comrades because of their injuries, and some, while still eligible to stay in the military, choose to get out because they can no longer do the job they once had and will be relegated to something less satisfying than what they signed up for.

The military has only recently recognized the need to help these troops find new careers and move on with the next stage of their lives.

One of those wounded is Army Capt. Scott Miller, who encountered a chemical agent while on patrol in Afghanistan.

The substance disfigured half of his face, leaving him with a speech impediment and a twitching eye.

He must leave his sales job outside of the Army National Guard because, he says, his condition makes potential customers uncomfortable.

"You know, the big thing of sales is communication. You talk to someone, I kind of talk like Elmer Fudd now, and I don't portray the exact confidence that I used to with that sound or the way I talk," Miller says. Video Watch Capt. Miller talk about how he was wounded and his life ahead »

"And, you know, you can come in with all the graphs, and all the whiz-bang bells and whistles, and if you don't have that air of confidence about you, nobody is going to believe what you're saying."

Once the shock of the wounds begins to wear off, many troops face a new reality, one where the security of a job no longer exists.

Troops who planned to spend their lives in the military or go back to work when they were deactivated suddenly have to find a job to make ends meet. It's a daunting task when you are not expecting to have to do it.

Active-duty troops are not the only ones in this position. National Guard troops, soldiers and airmen who have regular jobs outside of the military, are finding themselves unable to do those jobs because of their wounds.

A small Department of Defense-funded program is helping thousands of these warriors transition to a life they did not expect.

The program, called "Hiring Heroes," works with the military's severely wounded around the country while they are at hospitals like Walter Reed.

The program holds job fairs, bringing in government and private companies to seek out wounded troops leaving the military in hopes of putting them on their payrolls.

The range of service members varies. Some are enlisted troops with only a high school degree, and others are officers with bachelor's and master's degrees.

Experience and education are not the only things that matter. These potential employers are looking for what all members of the military possess, "commitment and drive," says one recruiter.

The Hiring Heroes program has seen more than 3,000 troops come through its job fairs in the two years it's been running.

Since 2005, the program has held 13 job fairs with a staff of only four.

The program has been working closely with the main military hospitals around the country to help the severely wounded, to ensure the next step in their lives is easier.

"Part of what we try to do early on is assist that warrior to redefine who they are and take those challenges of their wounds and look at them as opportunities to do something different," says Col. Patricia Horoho, commander of Walter Reed's Health Care program.

"I think this is critical for what we are doing right now. We're working toward becoming the center of excellence for the continuity of care, and that means we look at taking care of our warriors from the time they enter our hospital all the way through the transition process," Horoho said.

Companies that have hired troops from past job fairs have given the program positive reviews. And the troops who enter the fairs are happy there are people thinking of how to help them.

The employers that come to the fairs say the commitment and discipline of these troops make them ideal workers, and the wounded want the chance to prove it.

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As for Capt. Miller, he hit a job fair as soon as it opened, hoping to talk to as many of the companies and government agencies as he could.

After handing over his resume and getting a handshake, he moved from table to table, gathering names and contacts in hopes of starting a new career. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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