Written by William & Mary Student Mikayla Pentecost

Approximately 2.4 million members of the armed forces have transitioned from military to civilian life between 2001 and 2014 and another million are expected to make the transition within the next 5 years.[i] Among other things necessary to function in civilian life, most of these millions of service members are tasked with the process of entering the civilian labor force and sustaining jobs on their own. Recent federal initiatives have highlighted the need to ease the transition from service to civilian life as a means of combatting many of the problems faced by veterans today such as mental health issues, poverty, and homelessness.[ii] While it is true that the federal government has made strides in helping veterans transition to civilian life in recent years, there is more to be done in that arena to better serve those who have served our

The federal government has responded to the needs of post 9/11 veterans transferring back to civilian life in several ways. The post 9/11 GI Bill has increased the access to education for thousands of veterans.[iii] Additionally, the VA has increased veterans’ access to health care and veteran homelessness has been reduced by a third nationwide.[iv] To help reduce the struggles associated with the transition, the Obama administration oversaw the first redesign of the Military Transition Assistance Program in twenty years.[v] Part of the redesign includes the implementation of professional skills training on certain military bases.[vi] Finally, federal government jobs have been created and opened up for veterans. Between 2009 and 2014, the percentage of veterans in the federal workforce rose from 25.8 to 31 percent.[vii]

Despite the progress made in recent years, veterans are still reporting difficulties transitioning to civilian life. In a 2014 poll of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, half the veterans surveyed reported that the transition to civilian life was difficult.[viii] Fifty-six percent of the polled veterans reported that the federal government was doing a not so good or a poor job meeting the needs of their generation of veterans.[ix] Despite a high percentage of veterans reporting that they believe they have the skills and education necessary to be competitive in the job market, the unemployment rate of veterans who have served since September 11 exceeds the national unemployment rate. In fact, at the end of 2014, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 7.2 percent while the national unemployment rate was 6.2 percent.[x] The fact that veterans made up thirty-three percent of the homeless population in 2010 and there were 200,000 veterans in the prison system at that time is also indicative of the shortfalls in the process of preparing veterans to transition out of military life.[xi]

The higher than average unemployment rate and difficult transition for post-9/11 veterans can be attributed to the conditions and circumstances that exist in the military at the end of their service as well as to the attitudes of the current job market. Veterans leaving military service are speaking a different language than the business managers and leaders who are doing most of the hiring.[xii] There are also misconceptions held in the business world that the military trains veterans only to take orders, not to become leaders, thus, creating less of a willingness to hire veterans for upper level positions.[xiii] Adding to the difficulties in translating their military experience into terms that the civilian marketplace can understand skilled veterans with specialized training and licensing from the military often must become re-certified and licensed at their own expense to do the same or similar jobs in the civilian world.[xiv] There are agencies and a federal task force working to make the licensing process easier for veterans; however, the States that need to adopt legislation and procedures in line with the task force recommendations are slowing the process of change.[xv] For unskilled veterans, the prospects in the civilian workforce are even more daunting because there is a lack of career guidance and transition services available to veterans who do not hold “high-skilled” positions and wish to work in a field outside of policing or security.[xvi] The limited areas of employment assumed to be a good match for veterans often pigeon holes them into fields of work they may not desire, or that have the potential to bring back memories of negative experiences they endured while serving. This is especially so with jobs that often give a preference to veterans, like government agencies such as the TSA hiring veterans for security positions.

It is clear that there needs to be more training for veterans on how to translate the skills and expertise they gained while in the military into lucrative job skills that civilian employers will covet.[xvii] For example, teaching veterans how to construct their resumes to reflect leadership skills that are unique to individuals who have served in the military may help shake the misconceptions that veterans are followers rather than leaders. Additionally, there need to be more career counselors and advisors available to military members at the end of their term of service to offer guidance tailored to the veterans’ interests and career goals. Compared to college students of similar age, young people serving in the military and preparing for transition have a mere fraction of the career services available to them to enable them to conduct an effective job search and transition to civilian life.[xviii] In addition, veteran transition programs are often limited to the end of a service member’s term of service, rather than incorporated earlier in order to give veterans more time to prepare for the civilian marketplace.

There is still more that the government can do for transitioning veterans as well. The federal government should partner more effectively with private institutions that are likely to hire veterans and do more to make a case for veterans being specially qualified in the business sector.[xix] Adding a higher percentage of private sector veteran employees to the already increased numbers of veterans employed in the federal workforce will help reduce the percentage of unemployed post-9/11 veterans bringing the rate more in line with the national unemployment rate. The federal government should also partner more effectively with state and local governments that are geographically closer to the veterans and can do more on a smaller and more personal level to assist veterans with the transition process, to include matching veterans up with civilian employers in their states and localities.[xx] Finally, state governments should become involved in implementing the Obama administration’s Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force recommendations to streamline the certification process for skilled veterans to secure employment in specialized fields.[xxi] Continuing to reform the processes by which veterans make the transition from military to civilian life will benefit the country by allowing our labor market to tap into the unique and beneficial skillset held by veterans, and will enable our country to continue to improve post-service transition for the men and women who volunteered to serve us.


[i] Michele Flourney. We aren’t doing enough to help veterans transition to civilian life. The Washington Post. April 2, 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/we-arent-doing-enough-to-help-veterans-transition-to-civilian-life/2014/04/02/d43189e2-b52a-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Gene Sperling. States Step Up to Help Veterans Get Back to Work. https://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces/veterans-back-to-work

[vi] Andrew Soergel. Is Enough Being Done to Prepare Veterans for Civilian Jobs? US News. March 20, 2015, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2015/03/20/is-enough-being-done-to-prepare-veterans-for-civilian-jobs.

[vii] Beth Cobert. Helping Veterans Transition to Civilian Life. The OPM Director’s Blog. January 14, 2016. https://www.opm.gov/blogs/Director/2016/1/14/Helping-Veterans-Transition-to-Civilian-Life/.

[viii] Michele Flourney. We aren’t doing enough to help veterans transition to civilian life.

[ix] Id.

[x] Andrew Soergel. Is Enough Being Done to Prepare Veterans for Civilian Jobs?

[xi] Lindsay Schmidt, Gaelle Simmonds, and Heather Sulfaro. Problems of Combat Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Life. NCRP eJournal. http://www.ejournalncrp.org/problems-of-combat-veterans-transitioning-to-civilian-life/.

[xii] Derek Turner. Vets Facing Difficult Transition to Civilian jobs. http://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/career-advice/job-hunting/vets-facing-difficult-transition-to-civilian-jobs.html.

[xiii] Michele Flourney. We aren’t doing enough to help veterans transition to civilian life.

[xiv] Gene Sperling. States Step Up to Help Veterans Get Back to Work.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] Andrew Soergel. Is Enough Being Done to Prepare Veterans for Civilian Jobs?

[xvii] Derek Turner. Vets Facing Difficult Transition to Civilian jobs.

[xviii] Andrew Soergel. Is Enough Being Done to Prepare Veterans for Civilian Jobs?

[xix] Michele Flourney. We aren’t doing enough to help veterans transition to civilian life

[xx] Id.

[xxi] Gene Sperling. States Step Up to Help Veterans Get Back to Work.