by Mikael Honzell
When looking for subjects to interview, I’ve found that it is important to interview those that feel as though they don’t have a voice. So naturally, a group of people that came to mind were veterans. A good majority of veterans feel as though they aren’t receiving the benefits and services they deserve after they come back home. I’m not even a veteran and I feel this way.
To get a veteran's voice on the matter as well as the SEED project, I interviewed Delta College student/veteran Alfredo Zaragoza enlisted on July 8th, 2008 through July 12th, 2012. Here is what he had to say about his experience as a veteran and his thoughts on SEED.
Alfredo: Since I am a veteran, from my experience of seeing people who struggle, I don’t think they like handouts, but you know, they’re swallowing their pride. California has one of the highest costs of living in the country, and because of the high cost of living and the high taxes and everything, we don’t have enough housing and real estate is getting more expensive, and that means the poor people are suffering even more. More people now are in danger of becoming homeless, and or living in their cars and they still have jobs and their living in their cars now. And veterans don’t want a hand out but they’re swallowing their pride because they’ll take any help they can get so they can stay afloat, keep a roof over their heads and keep food on the table. And that’s not even including things like health care, basic health care and all that stuff. I can tell you right now, form the Medi-cal in this state, that really aint going to help nobody, cause it takes too damn long to get an appointment and to get help. I tried to g et private health insurance and I was told I didn’t make enough money, so I couldn't get any private health insurance.
Me: And that's the case for most veterans that have put their life on the line?
Alfredo: Oh hell yeah, that’s probably most veterans. There are some veterans at this school, who live under the bridges in Stockton and still come to school. They’re still coming to school cause they want to go get a job for themselves so they can support themselves.
With that being said, I wanted to get a sense of why Alfredo joined the army and whether he feels that his service was worth it. Also, was he aware of how veterans are generally treated when they come back home? And if so, why did he decide to enlist?
Me: What made you want to be in the army? What made you want to put yourself in that situation? Were you aware that's how it is for most veterans?
Alfredo: What happened in 2008?
Me: The whole economy collapsed.
Alfredo: Yeah. I applied to like 90 different jobs and nobody hired me. That's how many jobs I was applying and nobody was hiring. And I wasn’t going to put my parents in the financial strain of borrowing money to put me through college, so I joined the military for money and college. I would’ve liked to avoid doing that, but you know what, do the best you can. I’m not proud of doing some of the things I did, but I did them to survive.
Me: Do you feel that it was worth it? Your experience and the outcome.
Alfredo: I went to war in 2010 and I went to the military; I swear to God I am glad I got through it, but I had to do it. I had people who depended on me in the military and I wasn't going to let them down because that was the case, it was life or death. If I failed to do what I did, maybe some of them might not have come home. Some of them didn’t come home but also, I’d give the military back every penny that they gave me, everything; all my disability, all my veterans benefits if I can get back the person I was before I joined. I applied for all the stuff I applied for, because I didn’t want to turn to a life of crime. But that’s how it is. And if this handout (SEED) really it's just, I think ‘Okay, instead of handing me out money, why don’t you help me find a job? Or how to figure out how to use the internet right, how to make myself look right so that I can actually get hired.’ You want to direct a person to a better life, you got to give them a better skill set. A lot of veterans, I can tell you, when they get angry at a computer they actually throw the computer and break it. Because you got a bunch of guys that serve and do all this crazy crap where they’ve gotten into firefights, they’ve done all this stuff and have been honorably discharged and now, somehow they can’t find a freakin job, they can’t get reintegrated into society.
I know that it is common for a lot of veterans to find it difficult to reintegrate back into society after experiencing what they experience during their service. I wanted to see if this was the case for Alfredo and other fellow veterans.
Me: So it’s hard to come back and be “normal again?” To reintegrate back into society?
Alfredo: I’ll tell you, they’ll never be normal again. Not a single one of them. If they served their time and did their time, not a single one of them will be normal. But they’re having a hard time blending in with normal people and their job skills and really, employers, employers, they’ve got the power here and they can really pick because, for every job there’s ten people for the job because California's got 35 to 47 million people depending on the season. How the hell is someone going to get a job? This is a highly competitive job market. We got people competing with us who are competing with us who are offering to work for a lot less. Like Silicon Valley, the bay area, we’re competing with people who have six figure salaries, there's hardly any in between. It’s either you got the job skills for the six figure salaries, or you don’t and you work for the minimum wage.
Lastly, I wanted to see if a guaranteed extra $500 a month would benefit Alfredo and other veterans, as well as if Alfredo has any concerns with the SEED program.
Me: How do you feel that $500 would benefit you and other veterans a month? A guaranteed set income.
Alfredo: $500 would go a long way, but please consider, the average rent now across California is between 1,100 to 1,700 dollars. So if veterans have to choose between having a roof over their head or food, they’re going to choose food cause they need food more than the room. Like I said, they got veterans living on the streets. They’ve got perfectly good jobs, they’re living in their cars and you know, they can’t afford the rent.
Me: Do you think it would benefit you in anyway?
Alfredo: $500 would go a long way. But I know there are a lot of people that need it more badly than I do. Way more people need it more badly than I do. I know thats true.
Me: Do you find any concerns with the program? It’s not going to be watched on how they spend it.
Alfredo: Honestly, I just think the system is trying to keep them poor. Well, look at welfare, we have five generations of welfare from the same families now. We have families going on five generations that are on welfare. We have people who are on so many ebt cards, which is basically food stamps in this state. I just think the system is honestly just trying to keep them down there so they can stay down there. They’re failing to educate them on very basic things. I’m not talking about college education, I’m talking about financial education, hygienic education, home economics like how to cook for themselves and take care of themselves, education on how to avoid drugs and sexually transmitted diseases. I noticed a thing about all these places in the bad places of California, they lack five big things: One, they lack proper political representation. Two, they lack economic development; where the hell are the jobs. Three, they lack any proper education like I just said. Four, they live in run down areas that no one wants to go to or invest in. And five, they lack decent hospital healthcare systems to take care of them. If you want us to be a more productive population, well you got to take care of us. We understand we’re living in virtual slavery, but you know, we’re not slaves but we’re somewhere along that line and we need to be taken care of. You want us to work the manual job for the rest of our lives? And another thing, you guys aren’t educating us on the new changes, the automation changes, globalization, your not preparing us for that. So in 20 years, our labor force is going to be inadequately prepared to deal with the global economic forces. Cause China, South Korea, Japan, all those Asian nations, they’re investing in education and in their future, what the hell is happening here? It’s not happening at all. And now you got 70 year olds who are retired already, going back and looking for a job because their so old no one wants to hire them, but they got all these technical skills and we’re not using them to their full effect.
After this interview, a lot of my opinions on how veterans are treated unfairly after their services were confirmed. It’s not fair that people who put their lives on the line come back home to situations where it’s hard to find a job and or receive good health care services. If one risked their life for this country, I feel they are entitled to the best of the best. But unfortunately, this isn't the case for most veterans.