Veterans Offer Advice to Separating Servicemembers

A U.S. Army Soldier takes a break after conducting patrol in the Babil region of Iraq. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, some veterans are finding it difficult to find post-military employment.

Photo by Justin K. Thomas

By Justin K. Thomas

May 20, 2017

According to the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decision-making through research and analysis, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) has been fought by the United States and its allies for nearly 16 years. And in this time, American veterans of GWOT have faced the challenges of leaving the armed forces with success and problems.

The Watson Institute of International of International & Public Affairs at Brown University states that of the 2.7 million servicemembers who have served in the war zones of either Iraq or Afghanistan, many are now classified as having one or more service-connected disabilities. Many American veterans with these limitations that have returned from those battlefields find it harder to attain employment, socially interact with their families and face increased rates of suicide than in past conflicts.

In 2015, the Veteran Economic Opportunity Report (VEOR) stated that veterans are faring well—employment and earnings are generally comparable to the non-veteran population of the United States—but the report did also indicate that 53 percent of separating Post 9/11 veterans will face a period of unemployment.

However, 95 percent of veterans will connect with a job before using the entirety of their unemployment benefits granted by their local governments, the VEOR stated in its report.

John Shepard, the chief executive officer and founder of the veteran-focused company, Veterans Assembled Electronics, (VAe) says that at times, it's hard to track the success of veterans of GWOT. The veteran’s professional outcome in the civilian sector is difficult to predict because their final rank or specialty in the military can play a factor.

“It is hard to generalize [a veteran’s future] because everyone’s experience is different,” he said. “Officers and senior enlisted leaving service have it dramatically easier to find sustainable employment because they usually have an advocate or agent from a staffing company recruiting them. This is rarely the case with the E-5 or below personnel who must find their own way.”

Shepard, who is also a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, notes that a high percentage of former U.S. servicemembers are not completing their degrees at colleges or universities. Not completing an educational degree is something that potential employers can base their hiring decisions on and could hurt the veteran in other ways such as attaining a sense of accomplishment.

“I mention all of this because, to achieve a career that helps the veteran, disabled or not, they must feel as though they are making a difference, he said. “They have to continue their education in something relevant and substantial to them. It is critical that they feel they have achieved something of significance such as overcoming the fear of advanced mathematics or being able to write a research paper that involves critical thinking and examining data from various sources.”

Even though veterans face difficulties, Shepard believes that the largest obstacle veterans encounter once they leave the military is their self-doubt, but he states that potential employers are willing to support former servicemembers if and when the veteran is employed.

“Self-confidence is the biggest barrier veterans face,” Shepard said. “Often, they need to be reminded of what they actually achieved while in the military such as leading and working with people from different cultural backgrounds. Most employers are sympathetic to service-disabled veterans and will give them every opportunity to succeed, but the veteran must be able to deliver value to the company, or their disability doesn’t matter.”

In doing their part to assist veterans to succeed post-military, VAe graduated 68 service-connected disabled veterans and placed 80 percent of them in career opportunities in the electronics industry around the country, according to Shepard.

“I would suggest that at least half of those that have graduated from VAe have had a positive life-changing experience,” he said.

Bruce R. Mendelsohn, a former officer in the U.S. Army who is currently a social media and digital marketing consultant in the Boston area, agrees with Shepard's sentiments and states that transitioning from the military to civilian life can seem daunting for any veteran, no matter their occupational specialty.

Mendelsohn states that there will be concerns once the veteran leaves their respective military branch, however, by direction of the Secretary of Defense, each service is proactively changing how they assist members that are separating from active duty.

“I know the Army at least has vastly improved its transitional services and does the best it can to help veterans move into suitable positions in the civilian world,” he said. “But with so many soldiers leaving the military, these resources can get stretched.”

In addition, the departing service member must play a leading role in ensuring his or her chances of securing gainful post-military employment such as being able to network with potential employers, prepare for interviews and negotiating wages, according to Mendelsohn.

"Set realistic benchmarks regarding salary and title," he said. "Network with veterans who work in the companies you’re interested in and tap the military's available resources for transitioning. Negate the use of military acronyms on your resume and during in-person interviews. Be sure to communicate how your military skills will convey into civilian professional attributes. Stress your leadership abilities and high standards of accountability, but most importantly, your capacity to work with others as a team under stressful conditions to achieve a goal.”

For more information regarding service specific transition assistance programs, click here