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From Active Duty to Successful Civilian: Helping Veterans Make the Transition


They’ve served their country honorably, often putting their lives on the line. But once their service is up, many of our military veterans face a difficult transition from active duty to civilian life, from finding work and adjusting to a new environment to addressing daunting physical and mental health issues. Each year, about 200,000 service members will attempt to make that transition.

 

Trading a military career, community and way of life for a civilian one can be overwhelming, even when times are good. But it can be especially stressful when employment rates are volatile, inflation is rising and health concerns still loom in the shadow of the ongoing pandemic.



 In fact, the most immediate indirect needs for veterans in the midst of the pandemic are likely to be economic needs, related to job loss or underemployment, according to the
Bob Woodward Foundation. For some veterans, grappling with these issues will also lead to a host of legal and financial challenges. The question then becomes how employers can better support the specific needs of veterans in the workforce.

 
Workforce Challenges


Today, there are roughly 18 million veterans in the United States. Half are under age 65, with 77% of this group being part of the workforce. However, one-third of working veterans are “underemployed,” meaning they tend to be working in jobs for which they’re over-qualified and are likely to be lower paid for their education and experience level. By comparison, the rate of non-veterans is around 12%.

 

Hiring managers often find it difficult to evaluate the skills and experience acquired in the military and apply them to civilian job requirements. This “civilian-military divide” can create misperceptions about former service members’ capabilities.

 

As Lisa Umali, senior director of human resources at CVS Pharmacy, explained in the LinkedIn Veterans Opportunity Report, “I’ve spent a lifetime using the skills that I learned in Army counterintelligence. But when I came out of the military, all that people thought I could be was a security guard.”

 

Not surprisingly, underemployment is the top contributor to veterans’ current financial stress, according to a recent Blue Star Families survey.

 

Fortunately, there are a number of organizations with programs that help veterans work through the job search process and more. Take the USO’s Pathfinder program, for example. Transition specialists work one-on-one with active service members, veterans and their spouses across the country to identify their personal and professional goals, develop an action plan, and connect them to resources that are the best fit for them.

 
Legal Benefits Can Support Veteran Employees


What can employers do to ensure their culture is veteran-inclusive? They can first recognize that, like trends in the U.S. population overall, the veteran population is expected to become more racially and ethnically diverse. One strategy to better engage and retain veterans in the workforce is to tailor the benefits program for this group’s particular needs. Beyond medical and mental health benefits, the availability of financial literacy or wellness programs and legal insurance can go a long way to smooth the transition.

 

In the military, housing, health care, food and pay were largely managed for service members. Moving to civilian life requires them to learn how to manage their income, choose the right workplace benefits, understand financial planning, and access military benefits.

 

Veterans, like any other employee, can also benefit from legal counsel to help with a wide range of life’s issues, from the happy moments to the more difficult ones. While veterans and their families face many of the same legal challenges that the general community does, there are some distinct issues and complexities for employed vets. Here are five examples:

 

  • Home ownership. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps veterans with buying a home or refinancing a loan. They may qualify for loans at very favorable terms to build, improve, or keep their current home. A borrower with a VA-guaranteed or VA-held loan who is experiencing a financial hardship due to COVID–19 may request a loan forbearance. An attorney could help veterans’ access and manage the veteran’s housing assistance benefits they’ve earned.
  • Debt issues. More than one-third of post-9/11 veterans still report challenges paying their bills in the first few years after leaving the military. Nearly 60% of veterans 35-to-44 years old had credit card debt, compared with 48% of nonveteran households. Keep in mind that all debts are legal obligations. But not all debts are of equal priority. An attorney can explain the consequences of not paying each kind of debt and help set payment priorities. For those facing a lawsuit, repossession or foreclosure, or even bankruptcy, an attorney can outline the options and guide the process.
  • Veterans’ benefits. Veterans may be eligible for a wide range of benefits, from low-cost healthcare to pension programs. But applying and proving eligibility for benefits can often be a slow, tedious process. An attorney can provide counsel and representation for any administrative disputes arising out of veterans’ benefits. This type of assistance might be especially helpful to thousands of LGBTQ veterans who were discharged from the military under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy who have gained new access to full government benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
  • Divorce and child support. Again, a lawyer can play a key role assisting a veteran who is going through this difficult time. State law and local procedures largely govern divorce, but some federal statutes and military regulations may also apply, depending on where they file. Considerations include how to divide military retirement benefits, the continuation of healthcare coverage and the impact of chronic mental health conditions, like PTSD, on child custody and visitation.
  • Estate planning. While no one likes to think about death, it’s critical to spell out end-of-life wishes to make it easier on those left behind. Complications can arise from veterans’ specific types of retirement benefits, insurance or other death benefits. Additionally, veterans can receive military funeral honors and be buried in a national veterans’ cemetery. A burial allowance could help pay for a veteran’s funeral expenses

The road from active-duty military to a successful civilian life is not easy. What else can employers do to thank veterans for their service and support them on their journey? Donating to the many worthy organizations that support and assist veterans and their families is certainly admirable.

 

Brainstorm ideas on how you can make a difference starting within your organization. For example, examine how your benefits program can better meet the diverse needs of your workforce, including veterans.

 

Also consider forming an employee resource group focused on veterans, as well as partnering and supporting organizations within your local community whose goal is to assist veterans. Be sure to engage and educate your employees in these initiatives, so they can fully understand and appreciate the challenges our veterans face each day.

 

About the Author

 

Dennis Healy is a member of the ARAG executive team.

 


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