You’ve honorably served your country through the military. You’ve been on deployments, performed your military job with dedication and focus, and gained an abundance of skills and knowledge. Now, your service is up, and you’re looking to get back into the rhythm of civilian life and enter the job market. No problem, right? Sometimes. But not always.
In the post 9/11 era, veterans tend to have more trouble transitioning to civilian life, even more so than those from the Vietnam and Korean conflicts. The difficulty increases if the veteran had a traumatic experience during his or her service or was in a war zone.
Even just finding a job in the civilian employment realm can be downright frustrating. There often seems to be a language barrier between actual military experience and what civilian employers see. This can result in a person who successfully managed 30 people in the military only being qualified for an entry-level position in the civilian world.
Why the Return to Civilian Life Can be Tough
There are many reasons why the return to civilian life can be difficult. One big obstacle is that civilians often don’t understand what those in the military have experienced or what being in the military entails. This results in a big communication gap. Other reasons may include:
- Returning to family life: After a deployment or even just getting off active duty in the military, there is a transition when returning to the family as roles must be re-developed.
- Learning how to look for a job: Often, veterans never have held a job other than the military or never gained the skills needed to search for a job. This can be challenging and overwhelming.
- Reduction of day-to-day routine and structure: Food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities are usually provided in the military, as well as set schedules for things like meal times. Having to transition to providing these necessities for yourself as well as a reduction in a set schedule can be hard to adjust to.
- Competitive environment in the work force: In many civilian job environments, the culture can be quite competitive, and people are looking to help themselves get ahead rather than working as a team. This is different than the military, where teamwork is the foundation of many aspects.
There are many more reasons why the transition to civilian life can be tricky. But fortunately, when you’re looking to re-enter the job market as a veteran, you’re not alone. There are many veterans support organizations that can help you with the education and career transition, and also the readjustment to civilian life itself.
Organizations That Help Veterans
Developing camaraderie with fellow veterans is one way to ease the transition burden. Communicating with people like you who are facing the same issues can help substantially. There are many veterans organizations around the country with the mission of assisting this group. Here is a list of groups where connecting with veterans is paramount to the organization.
- Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)
This organization was founded in 2004 when it was realized that there was a large gap between what was actually happening on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan and what the public’s perception was. No one was acknowledging what the soldiers, especially wounded soldiers, had faced and were dealing with.
Now celebrating over 10 years, IAVA has the fastest-growing and broadest membership of post 9/11 veteran empowerment organizations (VEO). The mission of IAVA is to connect veterans to one another and educate them on:
- Mental illnesses
- Education benefits of the GI Bill®¹
- And more
IAVA also works with elected officials to make sure veterans are not ignored and receive the appropriate care and honor they deserve.
Through assistance, awareness, and advocacy, IAVA provides many opportunities and resources for veterans to connect with each other and the community, as well as receiving information and resources for education, employment, healthcare, and more. This helps to ensure veterans have a support network and the tools they need to foster a successful transition to civilian life.
- National Association of American Veterans (NAAV)
NAAV was established in 2005 to help those veterans who are wounded, disabled, or single parents, as well as veterans’ caregivers, by offering a network of support. The organization can act as a liaison and offer resources for communicating with health care professionals, benefits administrators, the general public, and more.
Any veteran can face challenges with the return to civilian life, but if there were injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, or bouts of depression, the obstacles increase exponentially for the veteran and their families.
Through organizations like NAAV, resources and support are available for veterans themselves as well as families and caregivers. When those who are directly responsible for veterans’ care are appropriately supported, they can be better caregivers.
- American Legion
First established in 1919, the American Legion is a well-known organization with a multitude of programs dedicated to fostering patriotism and citizenship for youth and helping veterans acclimate back into their communities. Through programs like American Legion Baseball, Operation Comfort Warriors Program, and more, the American Legion provides a community for veterans to volunteer, connect, and generally feel like they have somewhere to belong.
The American Legion also provides many resources for helping veterans understand their benefits from the GI Bill® and what’s needed to pursue higher education. It offers a career portal with job search tools and information as well. The organization also has a strong political presence, actively keeping Washington accountable to veteran benefits.
In addition, the American Legion has a strong fundraising program, raising millions each year to provide veterans and their families with assistance during difficult times and also for scholarship opportunities for continuing education.
- Wounded Warrior Project
While each veteran faces his or her own unique challenges when leaving the military, wounded veterans often have additional factors they must overcome. The Wounded Warrior Project provides many programs to help wounded veterans make the transition and know they are not alone. Some programs include:
- The Combat Stress Recovery program: Veterans participate in retreats and workshops that help foster camaraderie and develop and enhance relationships between veterans and their family members. The workshops also helps veterans overcome what they may have endured in combat and helps them better communicate what’s happening in their heads. This speeds up the recovery and adjustment process.
- Physical Health and Wellness: When veterans are wounded, they must go through an adjustment process. Even if the wound isn’t visible, each injury brings a change the veteran must adapt to.
Through the health and wellness program, a variety of activities are offered to help these veterans develop their physical fitness and skills during their transition. The participation in programs is also designed to help veterans connect with one another, and it can help reduce the likelihood of depression by giving them something to look forward to and be a part of.
- Alumni program: This program is designed to ensure these wounded service members feel like they belong by providing resources and events that encourage communication, support, and networking opportunities. Since social interaction with individuals in similar situations and facing the same challenges is paramount to recovery, the Alumni program provides veterans with mentors in addition to the other arenas for fostering camaraderie. Then the veterans also have the opportunity to give back by becoming alumni themselves.
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
The VFW began in 1899 after veterans of the Spanish American War in 1898 and the Philippine Insurrection from 1898-1902 found themselves sick or injured, and they didn’t have any resources to help.
The group of soldiers that had banded together after these conflicts continued to grow in size. By 1915, membership was at 5,000, and by 1936, membership had risen to an astonishing 200,000. Today, the organization has nearly two million members. With the backing of so many individuals who have fought for our freedom in this country, VFW is able to be a substantial advocate for veterans and their families.
Just a few of the things VFW has been involved in include:
- Aiding in the development of a modern GI Bill® that accurately reflects what today’s veterans and current service members need from it.
- Funding the construction of a variety of memorials such as Vietnam, World War II, and Women in Military Service. VFW was also the first of any veterans organizations to help fund the construction of the Disabled Veterans for Life Memorial.
- Volunteering in the community; members provide over eight million hours of volunteer work each year.
- Providing scholarships and savings bonds for students, with the complete annual totals being about $3 million.
Veterans Support Organizations with Career Placement Assistance
There is some overlap in the organizations that provide an environment that fosters camaraderie and those that offer extensive resources for job search assistance. Many veterans’ organizations know that helping veterans find employment or receiving additional education is a key component in easing the transition into civilian life. Below is a list of organizations that are either focused on helping veterans find jobs or that include it as a major aspect of their mission.
Also known as American Veterans, this organization has over one quarter of a million members and a broad range of services and programs.
The organization has a network of National Service Officers (NSOs) who are available, at no cost for veterans, to provide advice and assist veterans with claims regarding compensation. These NSOs are located in nearly every state, so there is a sound support network in place.
AMVETS also is present in the community in a variety of ways. One area AMVETS members can make a difference is by volunteering to visit hospitalized veterans. Through AMVETS members and the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary, volunteers devote over one million hours each year toward helping brighten someone’s day.
Members of the organization are also encouraged to get out and make a difference in their local communities by volunteering for things like Special Olympics, scouts, ROTC, and more. This can be a huge component in helping veterans getting back into civilian life as many often feel isolated.
Educational scholarships are also available through the organization. Each year, funds are awarded to deserving candidates in ROTC, high school seniors, or veterans who are looking to pursue additional education.
There is also career placement assistance available from the organization’s trained professionals. It is free of charge and can help get you back on your feet in a job that matches your skills.
- America Wants You
This organization partners with business and corporations from around the country to find adequate job opportunities for veterans. The concept was based on the ABC News series “Made in America” that helped bring attention to the fact that in order to help create jobs in this country, we needed to work on manufacturing more products here.
With a high unemployment rate nationally, and over 800,000 veterans among those unemployed, this organization provides a job board and other resources to assist veterans with finding jobs and adequately preparing so they can be competitive in the job market.
- Veterans Support Organization (VSO)
This organization began in 2001 with its home in Rhode Island. The organization’s inception was in response to a growing problem that many veterans were starving, homeless, or without skills needed to hold a job. The original goal was to establish a food bank for veterans, but as time passed, it became clear that these people needed more than just food. They needed help with being able to earn an income and becoming financially independent.
By hiring veterans to collect donations for the organization, the VSO’s work program provides veterans with the skills they need to be able to find a steady job to pay their bills so they can afford:
- Necessary day-to-day items to survive
The VSO’s grant program provides emergency monetary support to various social services to provide to veterans on the verge of losing their homes and other urgent situations. The funds for this program come from the general public as well as the money raised through the work program.
VetJobs is an online military jobs board with over 200,000 current job listings. The organization was established in 1999 after it was realized that there was a gap between employers and veteran candidates. In 2000, Veterans of Foreign Wars sponsored VetJobs, and since then, VetJobs has earned more endorsements from veterans support organizations than any other job board.
In addition to the endorsements from organizations like Vietnam Veterans of America, the Naval Reserve Association, National Guard Association of the United States, and more, VetJobs has also been the recipient of many other awards and recognitions, including WEDDLE’S User’s Choice Award each year since the award was established in 2004.
The mission of the organization is to bridge the gap between civilian employers and the highly qualified veteran candidates. By helping both veterans and civilians understand the value of veterans’ skills and how those skills translate into the civilian realm, everyone can benefit.
Aside from a wide array of available jobs, VetJobs also offers resources for veterans to help with resume writing, job search organization, and what to look for in an employer.
The USO is a non-profit, private organization dedicated to helping veterans and their families feel like they have a home away from home. With 160 locations throughout the United States and around the world, the USO provides support, comfort, and resources for veterans at all levels of their military career.
For those veterans transitioning back into the civilian sector, the organization provides many resources for the return to family life as well as employment assistance. The USO’s partnership with Hire Heroes USA works to offer Transition Workshops as well as Career Opportunity Days that help prepare veterans, their families, and their caregivers for finding civilian jobs.
These programs aid in:
- Resume writing
- Developing interview skills
- Building confidence
- Learning where to find a sustainable job outside of the military
Through the Career Opportunity Days, veterans have the opportunity to meet one-on-one with potential employers, thus increasing the rate of success in the job hunt.
The USO Employment Pipeline is another resource available to veterans and their families by providing a customizable feature that matches the veteran’s exact skills with available job opportunities. The user-friendly site design makes this an easy and useful way for veterans to get their foot in the door and find employment.
How Vista College Can Help
Being a part of a veterans support organization that creates camaraderie is crucial for helping vets succeed and make the most of their transition back to civilian life.
Sometimes, though, additional education is needed for a veteran to be competitive in the job market, and it can be helpful to know the right place to start. At Vista College, we offer a wide variety of programs in the industries that are growing and are projected to continue that way.
We also have a staff of dedicated veteran admissions representatives to help you simplify the admissions process, and once you’ve completed your education program of choice, our Career Services Assistance can help you showcase your skills in the job market.
¹GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.