Challenges New and Old for Returning Veterans During COVID-19

Returning home from years of military service comes with many challenges, but how much more difficult does it become during a pandemic? Christion McLeran looks into one young man’s return.

Joseph Ten Eyck Jr. (right) photographed with his father Joseph Ten Eyck Sr. (left) in 2015, while both were wearing their uniforms.

A Return Coinciding with the World’s Lockdown

Joseph Ten Eyck Jr. is a 23-year-old, third-generation Marine veteran from Penn Valley, California, who recently returned from five years of service in May 2020.

Shipping off for boot camp a few days after his high school graduation in 2015, Joseph served as an anti-tank missileman in the Marine Corps 0352 infantry, trained to be the first line of defense against enemy tanks/vehicles through the use of TOW missiles and the Javelin weapon system.

During his time in the Marine Corps, Ten Eyck was stationed at the Twentynine Palms and Camp Pendleton bases, both in southern California as well as being involved in a deployment to Southeast Asia.

“Being in the military was a positive experience for me, but it was definitely a love-hate relationship. I always say about 40% love and 60% hate,” he said, an attitude which was pretty common among his peers.

Like many of his fellow Marines, the younger Ten Eyck was very much anticipating his return home, saying he was most looking forward to “personal freedom, growing facial hair (something he now has an abundance of), and seeing old friends,” but returning home to a pandemic isn’t what he had daydreamed about.

Above, one of the federal programs helping veterans who have struggled financially during the pandemic.

Finding Work as a Welder But Suffering from Disabilities

In May 2020, the world was just beginning to adjust to life during a pandemic, with mass lockdowns across the country and the unemployment rate among veterans at about 13% among post-9/11 veterans, according to a study by Syracuse University, over three times the normal rate.

The unemployment crisis has hit this group of our population hard as it’s hit many of us and while there has been improvement since last year, the U.S. economy is still far from where it once was.

Ten Eyck believes he was one of the lucky ones. With many of his peers struggling to find work, he was able to find work as a welder relatively quickly. “I was fortunate enough to find work within the first 10 days, I was honestly a little surprised,” he said.

Even when there isn’t a worldwide pandemic happening, adjusting back into civilian life comes with its own set of problems, emotionally, financially and physically as well. Government statistics indicate nearly a third of veterans aged 21–64 have some disability suffered during their service and unfortunately Joseph falls into this group.

While still a relatively healthy young man, he says that his job in the Marines put wear and tear on his body that is already impacting his life in negative ways, including “pretty severe tinnitus from being around so many firearms and explosives” as well as arthritis in his knees and back as a result of the duties he performed, problems that are already affecting him at work.

Looking to the future, despite these physical challenges, Ten Eyck plans on continuing the welding work he has been doing since returning home, with a future goal of starting his own welding company in the next few years.

Written by Christion McLeran for the Reynolds Hotbox

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