By Debbie Gregory.
Practically since their completion of boot camp, service members are told to prepare for their transition back into civilian life. Veteran advocacy groups and civilian business strategists recommend that Veterans should start preparing for their transition one year to eighteen months before separation. They recommend having a job lined up before separating from active duty. Service members would be wise to follow this advice. But anyone who ever served in uniform realizes how unrealistic that advice is.
The reality is that most Veterans are deployed or stationed far from their homes during their last year of service. Some Veteran advocates and civilian employers have petitioned the military and its leadership to better prepare service members for their eventual return to plain clothes employment. But again, anyone who ever served in uniform realizes how unrealistic that advice is.
Let’s assign the primary responsibility of transitioning where it should be– on the service members. It is the service members who know that they will soon be separating from the military, who need to take appropriate measures to ensure that their transition is smooth and fruitful, for them and their families.
But newly minted Veterans can’t succeed by themselves. They need help in the form of guidance, employment consideration and training. In support of our military, Americans put magnets and decals on our cars, wear T-shirts, hats and accessories that have “Support the Troops” inscribed on them. No other country in the world shows as much widespread sponsorship for their men and women in uniform. But Veterans aren’t getting hired for jobs. They remain out of work or underemployed.
Economists focus on the statistics that determine whether or not Veterans have employment. But little acknowledgement is given to the types of employment that Veterans are able to get. Many GWOT Veterans have little to no college credit, and only their 4+ years of military service as work experience. They are left with little choice but to take jobs in retail, food service, customer service and private security.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is doing its part, providing Veterans with the means of obtaining an education and sustaining themselves and their families while they go back to school. But even Veterans who earn degrees courtesy of the GI Bill still have trouble gaining employment because their work experience gained from their military service isn’t recognized by employers.
Many programs and initiatives have tried to remedy this. The 100,000 Jobs Mission, the first lady’s Joining Forces initiative, and various other private and state and federal employment campaigns for Veterans have made remarkable progress. But Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan remain the most unemployed and underemployed demographic in the country.
What it all comes down to is that Veterans need to take the initiative for their own success, and employers need to give them a fair shot by finding ways to utilize a military background as viable work experience. It may cost these employers some time, effort and money. But it would be the best way to “Support the Troops.”