Unemployment rates among veterans are declining, but former service members are still struggling to enter the labor force.
Holly Mosack intended to go into the Army Reserve once she graduated from Northwestern University in 1997. A Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship helped pay Mosack’s way through college, but a three-week stint at the U.S. Army Airborne School between her junior and senior years changed her course.
“While it was only three weeks, that’s just where I fell in love with the Army and the people,” says Mosack, who after her senior year was commissioned as an officer in the Army. “Just being around the soldiers is what I love.”
Fast-forward to 2004. Mosack had just concluded a seven-year military career and was in the process of what many veterans describe as the daunting transition into the civilian labor force.
“That transition was very difficult. My life was the military. The people I knew were the military,” Mosack says. “While I knew I had some credentials – I went to Northwestern, a great school – I didn’t have the confidence. What can I do in this civilian world? I got this degree in journalism several years ago. I don’t think I want to go into that. What am I going to do?”
Many veterans ask that very same question upon entering the civilian world. The Labor Department on Wednesday estimated 21.2 million veterans were living in the U.S. at the end of 2014, making up about 9 percent of the civilian noninstitutional population – those who are not on active military duty or in mental health facilities or jails – at least 18 years of age.
And while the military has some programs in place to help with reacclimation, the career counselors and guidance afforded to the average college student as they shape the rest of their lives far exceeds the help many veterans of the same age receive, especially if their military skill sets don’t translate well into the civilian labor force. Many veterans need to fend for themselves to get a job while adjusting to life back home.
“They do have a transition process. Every service member goes through this – how to write a resume and whatnot,” says Mosack, who is now a director of employee communications at Advanced Technology Services, a company that specializes in improving workplace productivity, particularly in the manufacturing sector.
“But you’re so used to, when you’re in the military, those processes. When you go to the doctor, you don’t have a copay. You don’t have to do anything,” she says. “You’re kind of catered to, and when it comes time to find a job, people are expecting that same help, and it’s not there. And I think that sends a lot of veterans into a world of panic once they’re getting out.”