For Veterans Re-entering The Workforce, It’s Not Always Easy

February 1, 2019

Most civilians probably imagine military service to be about the most demanding and challenging career choice. In fact, many returning service women and men report difficulty adjusting to civilian life and finding work despite having developed unparalleled skills in teamwork, leadership and other vocational areas.

Factors impacting integration may fall into three categories. The first is psychological health and confidence. Second is the challenge of translating military experience into skills for civilian occupations. The third is facilitating understanding on behalf of future employers of the benefits of hiring veterans. This article addresses the first two factors. For veterans, some helpful resources are listed at the end.

Since 2003, an estimated 4.3 millions service men and women have exited the military as veterans. On average more than 230,000 officers and enlisted personnel re-enter civilian life every year. These are largely Gulf War-era veterans and include a more diverse mix of genders, races and ethnicities than in decades past. Before 9/11, 27% of returning veterans said reentry was difficult. According to a Pew Research Center study, 44% of veterans serving in the years post-2001 report difficulty readjusting to civilian life. Veterans who had emotionally traumatic experiences, served in combat zones or suffered injuries while on duty represent a large portion of this number. 

It is not unusual for veterans to feel lost and lacking in confidence when tasked to find a new career. A study from the RAND Corporation indicated over 20% of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTSD and/or depression. Coming from a system with a strict hierarchy, behavior protocols and mandatory assignments, many veterans starting a job search find themselves in charge of an undefined mission. The first challenge is recognizing these internal feelings before the negative effects build and spill over. Often, finding someone to really listen and empathize makes a big difference. Friends and family, however, may not be able to relate. Getting involved with a network of fellow veterans or engaging the services of professional career counselors can help. Over 85% of those experiencing PTSD do not seek treatment. A productive way to think about it could be that the mission is ‘successful reintegration’ and the first phase is achieving mental health and maintaining confidence so that a career plan can be developed and executed. 

Phase two is mastering the career transition. Many resources, some listed below, are available specifically to veterans. A typical first step in career planning is crafting a professional profile that summarizes in a few sentences a job seeker’s primary skills and ideal position Looking at LinkedIn to see how others describe themselves professionally is a good start. For example, “Mature leader with broad experience in employee relations and planning, along with knowledge in training and development involving internal and external partners.” or “Transportation Logistics Manager knowledgeable about logistics coordination and analysis, scheduling and inventory management.” 

Career counselors and advisors often use interviewing in combination with assessments to help individuals define their civilian professional identity and formulate individualized plans for career decision making. The important factors to explore include skills, values, motivations, priorities, interests and goals. For veterans, career counseling provides an efficient way to identify how skills gained through military services translate into civilian job descriptions. Working with an advocate can help veterans approach the job search with confidence. Many skills inherent in military training and culture will be very highly valued by civilian employers and need to be communicated in just right way to be understood.

Veterans re-entering the civilian workforce have a lot to offer but may need support in maintaining mental health and confidence. Seeking out a group of peers to collaborate and share ideas can create the feeling of a team environment. Veterans also benefit from career counselors or other advocates who can identify their transferable skills and communicate the benefits to employers. Resources exist in every state and few options are listed below.


Transitioning to Civilian Employment, Vocational Rehabilitation and the Transition Assistance Program (TAP)

 Wounded Warrior Project has laid the foundation for modern methods of veteran care, and is a critical resource in addressing the evolving needs of warriors.

 Military Skills Translator, Match Military Experience to Civilian Jobs

 VA Vocational Rehab

 Veterans Magazine


Maine Department of Labor

Maine Hire-A-Vet Campaign


Boots2Roots is the only Maine nonprofit that is specifically focused on connecting with soon-to-be veterans before they come to Maine.


“Veterans statistics: PTSD, Depression, TBI, Suicide.” Veterans and PTSD. September 20, 2015. Web

US Department of Defense, Demographics Reports, 2003-2014.

The Difficult Transition from Military to Civilian Life By Rich Morin,

Holly Smevog lives in Maine and is a career counselor and consultant for organizational human resource issues for Drake Inglesi Milardo, Inc. Holly’s father was a Navy Captain who retired in the late 70s. For several years, he found it difficult to navigate the world of civilian work. This article was inspired by a workshop on January 11, 2019 at the University of Southern Maine. The workshop, called Military Culture 202, was sponsored by the Maine Hire-A-Vet Campaign, The Maine Department of Labor and the CareerCenter. Chaplain COL Andrew Gibson provided the background information and an employer panel discussed recruiting, hiring and retaining veterans.

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