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New Study Outlines Economic & Employment Challenges Facing U.S. Veterans

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New Study Outlines Economic & Employment Challenges Facing U.S. Veterans

America needs to rethink its model for veteran employment!

ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 12, 2015—Veterans have a difficult time transitioning from military to civilian life and there are not many resources helping them do so, according to a new study released today by Volunteers of America in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families. The study, Exploring the Economic & Employment Challenges Facing U.S. Veterans: A Qualitative Study of Volunteers of America Service Providers & Veteran Clients, looks at the reasons veterans find it difficult to gain employment as well as keep it.

In some cases, veterans returned from military service where they’d earned good wages ($80K per year and more) only to find low-wage, menial employment as the only option because their military skills did not match up with civilian employment needs. The report emphasizes a need for “civilian basic training.” While those veterans surveyed cited receiving intensive basic training to prepare them for military life that included indoctrinating them with a culture of selflessness and acceptance of a common mission—virtues that can be liabilities in civilian life—the veterans received no training on managing the transition to civilian life. Veterans overwhelmingly cited a desire for more guidance to help with this transition from the military, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and civilian entities.

“Veterans are a tremendous asset in our communities around the country and must be given opportunities to perform as civilians just as they did in the military which requires solid ground,” stated Jonathan Sherin, M.D., PhD, executive vice president, military communities and chief medical officer for Volunteers of America. “In general, veterans have a loyalty to their employer and a work ethic that isn’t found in typical civilian culture.” Sherin, who has worked extensively with returning vets and is an expert regarding community reintegration challenges, added “Many veterans report surprise and frustration in discovering that their civilian co-workers do not share their [the veterans’] same conscientious and disciplined attitude in the workplace. That isn’t how things work in the military.”

The report also found PTSD to be the leading predictor of veteran unemployment. The VA estimates that combat-related PTSD afflicts anywhere between 10 to 31% of all U.S. military veterans (rates vary depending on the veteran’s conflict and length of service.) The research confirms that employers remain wary of hiring veterans with PTSD and/or any other mental health issues. Education and training remain important to helping employers understand the value veterans can provide to their companies and how the unique skills they acquired during military service prepare them to be leaders in the civilian workplace.

The study points out that, because there are few things that can replace the fellowship and camaraderie of the military, returning veterans experience significant gaps in their lives. There are huge benefits to veteran peer programs such as Volunteers of America’s “Battle-Buddy-Bridge” training program that trains veterans as peer advocates and community resource navigators for veterans in need. Leveraging the special power of peer support, battle buddies help homeless veterans connect with key benefits and services and put their lives back together. More of these peer programs are needed.

Additionally, the report stresses the need for employment programs that help all veterans, including those with other than honorable discharges and involvement with the justice system. It suggests that Volunteers of America has an opportunity to take the lead in establishing civilian “retraining” programs for new veterans accessing the organization’s services and to expand its holistic model of support as a prevention and early intervention by initiating a comprehensive veteran assessment at the point of first contact. As a national organization, Volunteers of America could also take the lead on strengthening communication of the national network and support the culture of innovation and information sharing through webinars, conferences, funding pilot programs and projects to address challenging issues such as employment barriers that face our veterans.

Volunteers of America is one of the largest providers of support to homeless and other vulnerable veterans in the U.S., serving more than 40,000 veterans annually. The organization operates more than 400 programs nationally giving veterans access to peer support, care coordination, housing, health and mental health care, employment services, training programs, benefits assistance, legal services and more. One of the biggest challenges the organization faces is helping veterans find and keep good jobs. While Volunteers of America has a stellar track record in placing veterans in jobs, long-term retention remains a challenge, highlighting the need for a long-term, holistic approach. In an effort to effectively address this challenge, Volunteers of America undertook this study.

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