We have reached another week, survived the weather that has faced us and our daily challenges. Topic selection is always a challenge to ensure diverse and interesting topics are selected, so I have come up with the challenges that veterans face throughout their lives and as they transition into their civilian lives. Here are some of those challenges that veterans are currently experiencing.
1. Unpreparedness for Civilian Employment
Veteran employment challenges could be partly attributed to a lack of preparation for finding civilian employment when they left the military. Part of the lack of preparation for civilian job placement included unrealistic employment expectations. Almost all of the service providers interviewed described the Veteran as lacking knowledge in the kind of jobs that would be available to them when they left the military. Veterans also had unrealistic expectations regarding the level they would enter the workforce and what kind of compensation they would receive. Veterans leaving the military thought their military service would allow for job opportunities at a similar rank and pay as what they received during military service. This is not the case.
Veteran’s often feel as though they had to start over completely and that their transition out of the military was not the steady progression of career advancement they expected. Despite this, Veterans remain incredibly motivated and willing to work their way up through civilian employment opportunities. But they also described what often happens to their veteran clients when these expectations are not met. Faced with starting from the bottom or in entry-level positions, their clients often became very frustrated.
2. Unaddressed Mental Health and Substance Abuse Issues
A common theme for both barriers to employment and risk factors for unemployment for Veterans with unaddressed mental health and substance abuse issues. Every Veteran described these as significant challenges in finding employment. Many described the issues as often inter-connected, with clients using substances as self-medication for lingering mental health issues, most commonly PTSD and/or depression. These problems manifest themselves in several ways concerning employment. First, they are relevant to the motivation to find and keep employment.
Veterans have appeared not quite ready to address their mental health and/or substance abuse issues. Also, Veterans with unaddressed mental health or substance abuse issues are challenging to place. One service provider described employers as very reluctant to hire a veteran if an employer even slightly suspects a veteran may be experiencing mental health issues. Although this is most likely true for hiring civilians, the stigma of mental health issues that have come to be associated with military service appeared to make employers mostly concerned when hiring veterans.
3. Continuation of Military Identity
One of the most common themes across all Veteran Groups was the indication and expression of how the veteran participants continue to see themselves through a military identity. The impact of their training and military experience was still evident in their actions, behaviors, and thoughts and their ability to relate to civilian friends, family, and employers. Almost every focus group participant described feeling more comfortable around those who had also previously served in the military.
The military identity appears to be an additional barrier and challenge inhibiting veterans’ abilities to adapt and transition to civilian life, especially in gaining and maintaining employment. This was evidenced in their difficulty adjusting to the civilian work culture. A clear theme that emerged from the focus groups was that even when veterans had secured work, many found it hard to maintain their employment as they had not settled well into the civilian work ethic and culture.
4. Criminal Background and/or Dishonorable Discharge
The most prominent theme from service provider interviews regarding the risk factors for unemployment in their veteran clients was a criminal background and/or dishonorable discharge. These Veterans are most difficult to employ and the most at risk for chronic unemployment. Along with the unique challenges that come with finding veterans employment, criminal background, or dishonorable discharge creates additional barriers, particularly the unwillingness of employers to hire these veterans and lack of available jobs.
5. Stigma Associated with Hiring Veterans
An additional theme from Veterans was overcoming the stigma associated with hiring veterans. Service provider participants described reluctance by some employers to hire their veteran clients. This was most often attributed to concerns over mental health issues, long gaps in employment history, and an unwillingness to hire those with a dishonorable discharge and/or criminal background.
Veterans were very direct about the stigma they perceived facing while trying to enter the civilian workforce. Veterans felt as though relaying their military service to potential employers automatically put them at a disadvantage. Most relayed employers’ concerns about possible mental health issues.
6. Veteran Client Age
When looking at specific risk factors for unemployment, Veterans often brought up age as a significant factor that may make veterans susceptible to unemployment. However, there was a mixture of responses regarding at what age clients were most vulnerable. Some participants felt the older veteran clients were most at risk for unemployment. Reasons provided included older veterans who have outdated skills, have difficulty using technology and are more likely to have been chronically unemployed with long gaps out of the workforce.
Veterans felt the younger generation of veterans was more at risk for unemployment. Younger veterans as more likely to have mental health issues, not prepared to focus on gaining employment, not willing to get help, and at risk for creating long gaps out of the workforce that will make them difficult to employ.
7. Availability of Appropriate Jobs
Veterans revealed the lack of available jobs appropriate to veteran skills and experience and pay a living wage to be a significant barrier for veteran employment. Veterans discussed a lack of employment, this was particularly relevant for service providers that worked in rural areas.
Many of the veterans reported that one of the challenges they face in finding employment is identifying available jobs that are appropriate to their skills and experience but also that pay them a living wage. Both pre-9/11 and post-9/11 veterans said that, in their experience, the only work available to them was as security for private companies, bars or nightclubs, fast food restaurants, or other low-skilled positions. The lack of appropriate and fairly paid work impacted many veterans’ motivations to apply for jobs and maintain work once offered a job.
Hopefully, this helps you understand some of the challenges that other veterans are experiencing as they transition back into the civilian world. If we can understand these challenges, it will allow us to help these veterans get through them a little easier and maybe be there for them through their struggles. Anyway, I hope you have a great week! Please take care of yourself and other veterans.
Kintzle, S., Keeling, M., Xintarianos, E., Taylor-Diggs, K., Munch, C., Hassan, A., & Castro, C. (2015). Exploring the Economic & Employment Challenges Facing U.S. Veterans. Retrieved from https://www.voa.org/pdf_files/a-study-of-volunteers-of-america-service-providers-and-veteran-clients
Image provided by Kyzer, L. (2012). Veterans Transition Programs Changes Highlight Employment Challenges. ClearenceJobs.com. Retrieved from https://news.clearancejobs.com/2012/08/20/veteran-transition-program-changes-highlight-employment-challenges/