From IEDs to CVs — The Challenge of Finding Work After War

A US soldier arrests a mock suspect wearing ar...
Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

If there’s any job tougher than being a soldier, it can be finding a civilian employer who truly understands the skills a soldier brings.

From the New York Post:

The unemployment rate for returning veterans is around two percentage points above the national average.

Given how high that average is to begin with, “That’s pretty catastrophic,” says Tarantino, who’s now a legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, lobbying on veterans’ behalf in DC.

Veterans and their advocates say a number of barriers can stand in the way for vets seeking jobs, as well as those returning to work after serving in a war zone. They include long gaps in private-sector work histories, the lack of a network, difficulty adjusting to a work environment after the extremes of combat and a corporate world that often fails to appreciate the crossover value of the considerable skills, both hard and soft, that soldiers acquire.

Throw in a disability, either physical or an invisible one like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and things get harder still. And the cruel irony is, finding work is often a crucial step toward successfully readjusting to civilian life after a deployment.

Young veterans face the most difficulty, reports the Los Angeles Times:

Young combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have another challenge waiting for them when they return home: steep unemployment.

More than 1 in 5 can’t find work, according to data released Friday by the Labor Department.

The unemployment rate last year for veterans ages 18 to 24 reached 21.1%, compared to 16.6% for that age group as a whole.

In addition to the recession, veterans groups attribute the high jobless rate to a lack of education, job experience and job training in the years before entering the service. Also, many return home with health and mental health problems that make it difficult to find work.

“When a person is deployed, it takes them out of their natural environment and they’re not out there able to compete with the general public for jobs,” said Joseph Sharpe, director of the economic division of the American Legion. “And when they return, they’re not on an even playing field.”

One video game developer is putting its money where its mouth is, donating $1 million to help veterans find work, reports the Washington Post:

The military’s predominantly male makeup falls squarely into Activision Blizzard’s preferred 18- to 35-year-old male demographic. The military has started using video games to train recruits, and service members often spend their down time with game consoles in hand. Activision Blizzard regularly donates video games and gaming consoles to the military through the USO, and the donations have helped the company identify and hire veterans who are interested in the gaming industry.

The foundation will make its first donation of $125,000 to the Paralyzed Veterans of America to help open a vocational rehabilitation center, the company said.

Yet some veterans are doing just fine, reports Fortune, thanks to a special mentoring program:

News Corp. (NWSA) is one of 17 major companies and universities — from Campbell Soup (CPB, Fortune 500), General Electric (GE, Fortune 500), Home Depot (HD, Fortune 500), IBM (IBM, Fortune 500), Procter & Gamble (PG, Fortune 500), Verizon (VZ, Fortune 500), and the University of Texas to, just recently, Bloomberg, Deloitte, and Harvard — that has signed on to provide mentors to veterans through American Corporate Partners since it launched in 2008. Currently ACP has more than 500 mentors matched up with veterans. There are another 800 veterans on a waiting list hoping to be assigned executive role models.

The non-profit is the brainchild of a former investment banker named Sid Goodfriend, who spent 25 years working first for Merrill Lynch and then Credit Suisse (CS). Goodfriend, 50, has no military background himself. Prior to forming ACP, he didn’t even have any close friends who had served in the armed forces. But in the years since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he says he had developed a really deep sense of appreciation for how fortunate he’s been in life and an admiration for the soldiers that serve to keep him and his family safe. “I owe so much of what I have to these young people who decide to put country first and their welfare second in a lot of cases,” he says.

By 2007, the financially well-off Goodfriend decided that he wanted to leave Wall Street and spend his time giving back to veterans who have served since 9/11. The question was how? As a board member of a New York City non-profit called Student Sponsor Partners, which matches at-risk students in New York’s public school system with sponsors who pay for them to attend a private school and take a role in their education, he had seen firsthand the power of mentoring. And he knew how important mentors had been to him in his own career at Merrill. He figured veterans trying to break into business could use some expert guidance.

Fortune’s March 22 cover story features several veterans now being recruited by major corporations.

3 thoughts on “From IEDs to CVs — The Challenge of Finding Work After War

  1. I got out of the Army and started college in Jan. 2004, directly after a deployment to Iraq as a gunner. The transition to civilian life was the biggest challenge of my life. Getting a job was nearly impossible and I know my experience was not nearly as bad as other veterans. Thanks for writing about this; it’s a huge issue.

  2. Caitlin Kelly

    Thanks for sharing this. I am so appalled that those willing to serve their country — and you know what this means — face any sort of discrimination upon returning to civilian life and work. I worked PT retail and my store manager was former SpecIal Forces, and had worked as a medic. He was one of the best people I’ve ever worked with — calm, diplomatic, unflappable. I have rarely met someone I so enjoyed working with.

    I wonder if things were different — easier — after WW II and Korea, when so many had served and were so admired. I suspect after Vietnam and onward, there has been this divide.

    I have tremendous admiration for soldiers. I do not understand why others don’t.

  3. dalina

    My 18-year-old cousin recently enlisted with the Marines. My entire family didn’t know how to handle the issue, everyone kept thinking about his safety while overseas (and rightly so). Diego finally came along and told him to find a task or skill in the service that will be of use to him once he’s out — it’s how he got into photography. I’m grateful he was there to offer some insight. My grandfather served in Korea and started working at a mine near Tucson soon after completing his time, but he’s no longer around to coach and mentor my cousin.

    I’m very grateful people are willing to serve our country, I just wish our country were more willing to serve them.

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