SUCCESS OR DEATH IS BASED IN MARYLAND. The blog highlights one veteran's journey through what it means to be an entrepreneur.

Transitioning: Navigating Beyond the Trenches

“Individual experiences may vary” is the common saying in the military, especially as portrayed in memes on social media sites. The commonality is we all wear the uniform, we all receive the same basic benefits, and we are all discharged in one form or another. For officers, moving onto grad school or other advanced educational pursuits and maybe corporate life await. For my fellow enlisted brethren, going to college after you’ve earned those benefits is next; if not, getting a job and moving up the ladder is your next move. The issue all of us face, no matter sergeant or major, master sergeant or lieutenant, the Department of Defense and the VA haven’t created a robust transition program to truly prepare us for what lies outside our roles in uniform, and a thorough analysis as well as supporting platform can change all of that.

In the past several years, plenty of organizations have popped up to help transitioning service members into the civilian world. Life after the military, whether you did four years or 20 years, isn’t easy. Routine, a sense of urgency and purpose, and a strong sense of community follow us after. Old habits die hard, and leaving many of those behind can be extremely difficult. For the Army, we have a Transition Assistance Program. Even soldiers I know who left active duty recently have had issues integrating back into civilian life. There’s a disconnect somewhere between service members, the organization, and civilian companies.

The benefits of veterans working for civilian companies, especially defense contractors, are relatively obvious. For our defense contractors around the beltway, those with intelligence backgrounds, and more importantly those top secret clearances (with polygraph) are valuable and save contractors tens of thousands of dollars. For everyone else, they have skills they can move in an almost linear fashion into government jobs and related occupations. 

Now, we can talk about the other 90% of service members leaving the service.

Officers and enlisted have challenges when leaving the service. Should the DoD and VA streamline platforms and get more companies and organizations involved, the potential to help more and more warriors transition into civilian life will be that much better, not to mention reduce the statistics of veterans being unemployed, or even drilling guardsmen and reservists facing staggering rates of unemployment or underemployment. The key is to find meaningful employment. The civilian equivalents don’t always match up, but as reduction in force becomes more the rule than the exception, companies can be choosy and so can the military. The person who loses is ultimately the service member. 

Software is more than capable of tackling some of the military’s largest personnel issues when it comes to transitioning from active duty to civilian life. Again, the interfaces and experiences often deter service members from adequately using them. With a robust platform and network in place, managing everything from personnel to medical records, and having the right schools and companies involved, the new veteran is able to almost seamlessly move out of uniform and into school or the workplace.

Some things to consider about all the services out there assisting military members and veterans in the transition phase:

  • Age of the organization/company. Newer companies typically will have far fewer connections able to assist members. 
  • What is the success rate of the company? If they say they help vets or other service members find jobs, how successful have they been? Are they moving the right qualified people into similar positions or are they near-minimum wage jobs? They can say it’s up to the individual ultimately, but the purpose of those companies is to use the resources they have at their disposal to help. If a company doesn’t disclose their success broken down by demographics, I would question how successful I might be in the same search.
  • Are they nonprofit or there to make money? What sort of returns do they get out of finding veterans and members jobs? If the company tells you directly they get tax credits for getting you ANY sort of job, their motives (while you may need a job) aren’t noble and the bottom line means more than you being able to provide for yourself and a family if you have one. A company should indicate how successful they have been in getting your fellow service members jobs rather than the tax incentives they receive.

Be aware many of them have almost identical names and purposes. Some get heavy tax breaks for getting veterans and service members hired, while others are taxpayer funded. Overall, helping transitioning service members find meaningful and permanent employment suitable to their skills they spend years developing is a noble cause, but there are still hurdles to overcome.

Corporate culture values classes of service members over others (i.e. the officer/enlisted divide), sometimes military service because of the constant deployments can be seen often by civilian companies as a liability rather than an asset (unless they are major defense contractors), and the government across all agencies (especially the HR and admin departments) can discuss and implement methods to streamline the entire process of moving from wearing the uniform to blue or white collar employment.

As the older generation of veterans and former service members ages more, younger soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who are more driven by finding meaning in their work and a solid paycheck are leaving the services in droves, increasing competition for jobs exponentially.

The new battles aren’t being fought in deserts and mountains; they are being fought in corporate America, in the halls of VA facilities, and online where we interface with a faceless individual – the human resources manager.

The discussion needs to happen. What can we do to help this process? We have the plan. Now we just need the right people to listen and act.

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This blog originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

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