In May, the nationwide unemployment rate for veterans hit 4.4 percent. Pennsylvania's was 7.6 percent.By Meghan Schiller

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Transitioning from military to civilian life can be hard, let alone during a pandemic.

As economists watched the unemployment rate creep up, veterans across Pennsylvania searching for jobs struggled harder than vets living in other states.

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KDKA’s Meghan Schiller talked to retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Damien Benton and learned he will soon call Pittsburgh home. He already nabbed preseason Steelers tickets.

“I’m not a Browns or Ravens fan so I guess I’m OK,” said Benton.

Up until this week, he was one of many veterans struggling to find a job.

“We go through what they call transition class. And it talks about resumes and what your benefits are and how to apply for certain things. But it never really gives you what you’re going to get that first day you walk into a regular company. It can be very overwhelming,” said Benton.

In May, the nationwide unemployment rate for veterans hit 4.4 percent. According to RecruitMilitary, Pennsylvania’s rate for unemployed veterans nearly doubled that at 7.6 percent, and more than half of those veterans are between the ages of 25 and 54 years old.

“It’s a lack of education on the hiring side, understanding what translatable skills are. Then also us as veterans, we’re not really good at creating that translation,” said Justin Henderson, SVP of sales at RecruitMilitary.

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Here’s an example: Benton worked for 20 years in the Navy on weapons systems for Tomahawk missiles. Translation?

“I had to say, ‘OK, what was it that I actually did?’ Well, I did electrical, mechanical and I did hydraulically,” said Benton. “So you kind of have to take that and turn it into what happens at a regular job.”

Retired Marine Henderson now works to connect job-seeking veterans like Benton with employers ready to hire.

“A lot of times, companies will say, ‘We want to hire military’ and they’ll group all of us into one single unit,” said Henderson. “And they won’t understand there are different departments. There are logistics, there’s admin, there’s health care, transportation, infantry.”

As the veteran employment rate tries to climb back up the COVID curve, Henderson asks one thing of Pittsburgh business owners.

“When you see a resume and you don’t understand it with the military – just give them a call because that’s when the lightbulb goes off because that’s when you realize leadership in the military is the same as leadership in the civilian world.”

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RecruitMilitary will host a virtual career fair for veterans on July 6 from noon to 4 p.m. EST. Online registration is free. Click here for more.

Meghan Schiller