Robert Freniere has three graduate degrees earned during a 30-year career in the military, which included a position as an aide to Pentagon brass. So it might come as a surprise that now he is living out of his mini-van and having a hard time finding a job.
For six hours a day on a computer at the public library, Freniere fills out job applications with no luck yet, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported earlier this week. Staring at the computer screens is difficult for him though. He has dyslexia, according to the newspaper.
“Why doesn’t this guy get a job as a janitor?” 59-year-old Freniere asked, echoing the sentiment that some might express to a person having a hard time finding a job.
“Well, I’ve tried that,” he told the Inquirer.
Freniere admits that he’s one of many jobless, homeless veterans. He described a luncheon in D.C. that occurs each month where the former military members stand up and describe their service. The hope is that they get hired by someone in attendance.
Freneire comes from a military family, so it was only natural that he would enter himself. He joined the Army after the Vietnam War ended and later transferred to the Air Force where he served in several combat zones. Freneire got a job in the Pentagon in 2000 and was there when it was hit by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, according to records found by the Inquirer.
In 2005, he was ready to deploy to Iraq, but a back injury he sustained in his 20s flared up and required surgery instead. The next year after recovering, Freneire retired from the military, but it took yet another year for him to find a job as a defense contractor.
According to the Inquirer, Freneire became homeless about two years ago when he became estranged from his wife and expenses from debt and college tuition for his two sons began adding up. He has been unemployed since August 2012, but still receives annual pension from the military of $40,000.
It’s unclear why that pension doesn’t prevent him from living in a van, but his other expenses may explain it. He does say that sometimes he pays to sleep in a motel.
The fact that Freneire has had such a hard time finding work baffles those who know him.
“My dad’s the most motivated person I’ve ever met in my whole life, and he’s living out of his van,” Freneire’s son Eric told the Inquirer. “A full colonel with three master’s degrees? I don’t get it at all – it doesn’t make sense to me. If he had a job right now, we’d be fine. We’re not fine right now.”
“With all his experience, especially in intelligence, there’s got to be a spot for him,” Adm. James Hogg said.
Even though the rejection — or not hearing anything from employers at all — gives Freneire a sense of hopelessness, he told the Inquirer that he’s not about to give up.
“I’ve got a lot of good experience. I’ve got two beautiful sons. I’ve got a van. I don’t know how long it’s going to hold up, but I’ve got it. I’ve got a lot of things to be thankful for,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has said its working to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015.
Watch the VA’s public service announcement about this initiative:
Read more about Freneire and see photos of his life packed into his van in The Philadelphia Inquirer’s full profile.
(H/T: Daily Mail)