When a mortar shell exploded inside the tent of his forward operating base in Iraq, Andrew Steiner and 15 other Marines were wounded. Steiner, who received the Purple Heart Medal, still carries shrapnel in his right hand from that 2005 attack, which ended his second tour of duty.
Once home, he didn’t expect a hero’s welcome, but neither did he anticipate being so unappreciated and ignored as a vet. His first thought on leaving the service six and a half years ago was, No one knows what we’ve done. No one is here to help. After attending a two-day seminar on reintegration and employment given by the Marines, Steiner was on his own.
The economy wasn’t so bad then, and Steiner landed a couple of jobs, first in real estate finance and then as a manager at a meat-packing plant in Hunts Point, in New York City. But as the country fell into recession, he found himself unemployed.
In the past year, Steiner, who led a Marine rifle squad in Iraq, has sent out hundreds of résumés and gone on dozens of interviews. So far, nothing has materialized. The single Jersey City, New Jersey, resident has completed a year at a community college, but he is anxious to find full-time work and hopes for a career in commercial real estate or financial services. In the meantime, he takes whatever jobs he can get, including stints as a carpenter and as a stagehand in Manhattan and the Bronx.
Steiner is still shocked by the general disinterest in the plight of vets and bewildered by the reluctance to hire them. “Returning soldiers are the most misunderstood group in our country,” he says. “Sometimes during a job interview, you mention you’re a vet and you see this expression cross the interviewer’s face, and you just wonder what’s going through his mind.”