For Jeremiah Gaches, walking out his front door seemed like too much most days, let alone holding a job.

A retired Army sergeant, Gaches was struggling in civilian life with the effects of a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"You're taught in the military to push through, to suck it up and keep moving forward," said Gaches, 35. "Asking for help is seen as a weakness, and it was so hard for me to ask."

Gaches eventually did ask, and for the past six months he has been working at a Veterans Affairs call center in Livermore with a service dog, Rocky, curled beneath his desk to keep his PTSD symptoms in check.

Gaches is one of more than 80 disabled veterans placed in jobs this year by the San Jose nonprofit Project Hired and its Wounded Warrior Workforce initiative. The organization is working with an additional 200 veterans to find employment in a 3-year-old program that has gone national.

"I would never want to get a job just because of the label 'disabled veteran,' " said Ryan Bambling, 26, who nearly lost his right arm to mortar fire in Iraq and now is a human-resources representative at Oracle's office in Reston, Va. "But I have something to offer. I have problem-solving skills and I've had to make difficult decisions in situations that I think most people couldn't imagine."


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As the nation observes the Veterans Day federal holiday, the stark reality is retired military personnel from the post-9/11 era continue to face a challenging job market. The jobless numbers for this latest generation of veterans, while trending downward, is at 10 percent -- significantly higher than the overall national rate of 7.9 percent. Unemployment among disabled veterans is higher despite government incentives for companies to hire them.

Ironically at Project Hired, there are more job postings than disabled veterans -- perhaps in part because veterans can be reluctant to admit they need help.

"We have jobs and now we need to find the veterans to fill them," said employment specialist Mario Migliardi.

Project Hired has been finding work for the disabled since 1978. Executive Director Gwen Ford said the veterans program began at the suggestion of her son, Tyrone, an Army sergeant first class who is serving in Afghanistan.

"For people with disabilities, it's always been difficult to find a job," Ford said. "But when a veteran returns home with a disability, it completely changes their life. Now we have a multitude of these people coming home from war, and if we don't do something it's going to become the same sad cycle that Vietnam-era veterans faced."

More than 48,000 personnel have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that only begins to capture the toll. Nearly 450,000 recent veterans have been diagnosed with PTSD and other mental disorders, according to the VA.

Those unseen ailments appear to be a stumbling block for some employers. A report issued in June by the Washington think tank Center for a New American Security found that while employers value the qualities veterans bring, they also had concerns about the effects of combat stress.

Project Hired acts as a matchmaker between veterans and employers on jobs that range from unskilled to high-tech, trying to find good fits between veterans' abilities and companies that are willing to make accommodations.

Some work at call centers that Project Hired staffs for five California VAs, where they take calls, answer questions and schedule appointments. Redwood City-based Oracle is hiring disabled veterans into a paid internship program. San Jose's Brocade, a longtime Project Hired sponsor, is developing an apprenticeship program.

"We recognize that some of the returning veterans will need training and acclimation to the corporate environment, which can be very different from their military experience," wrote Brocade vice president of human resources Lisa McGill in an email.

Retired Army specialist Roberta DeJean has an MBA and yet was unemployed for 10 months before landing a project manager job with Oracle in Colorado Springs, Colo. DeJean, like many veterans, thought most companies weren't interested in whether someone with disabilities could be a good fit.

"They're worried about someone with PTSD acting out or having a breakdown because they just don't understand what it means," said DeJean, 32, who has back pain and PTSD from her tour in Iraq.

After being discharged from the Army, Lodi resident Gaches became a virtual hermit because he was so anxious in crowds. Later he was diagnosed with a brain injury that occurred either in a vehicle accident in Korea or from blast exposure in Iraq.

Project Hired arranged for Gaches to receive a service dog -- a German shepherd-Husky mix -- to help him navigate life. Rocky travels everywhere with him, including to the Livermore call center.

"This program not only has gotten me to the point where I can work again, but where I feel like I'm living again," Gaches said.

Michael Magpusao, 37, of Foster City, manages the Palo Alto VA call center.

"We're a stubborn bunch when it comes to admitting that we need help," said Magpusao, a retired sergeant who left Afghanistan with a shoulder injury and mild PTSD. "It's hard to explain, and I was one of them. But we need to help disabled vets find work."

Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.