When a service member leaves military service, the transition from a stiffly regimented environment to an easygoing civilian life can be jarring, to say the least.
Most veterans are affected by little things that fade with time, like the muscle memory of removing a hat when stepping indoors or standing at attention when the National Anthem is played. However, many veterans experience isolation, depression, and anxiety upon their return to civilian life.
A scant 8 percent of the United States population has served in the armed forces, which means former service members may have a long road to travel until they find a fellow veteran with whom they can relate.
In some cases, these individuals are battling post-traumatic stress disorder, which can lead to even more serious issues like substance abuse and homelessness, or worse. A 2012 study by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that an average of 22 veterans commit suicide each day — that’s more than 8,000 each year.
In order to combat this, many veterans who are able to work or volunteer benefit from doing so by fulfilling a purpose and establishing new relationships with co-workers. In fact, the unemployment rate among former service members is approximately 2.7 percent, down from 4.3 percent in 2016, and a far cry from the almost 10 percent unemployment in 2010.
This rebound in veteran unemployment is due in large part to the nation’s recovery following the 2008 Great Recession, but may also be due to job training programs that are specifically targeted toward service members, and oftentimes guarantees job placement upon graduation. These programs are even more common in the greater Seattle Metro area, which was recently ranked number 8 by personal finance website WalletHub in its list of the best U.S. cities for veterans.
One such program is the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy. Founded in 2013, the program utilizes skills inherent to veterans — like the ability to learn and adapt, attention to detail, leadership skills, strict adherence to rules, etc. — to learn new skills in computer sciences and STEM.
“A typical person doesn’t make that commitment (to serve) — it takes someone extraordinary,” said former Army Sgt. Bernard Bergan of the 1 percent of Americans currently serving on active duty. You give that person a great opportunity like MSSA, and you’re combining their skill sets, their talents, their know-how, their can-do attitude with what technology really is — solving problems.”
Another such program is a partnership between the ride sharing application Lyft and the nonprofit United Service Organizations’ (USO) Pathfinder Program. Through this partnership, service members and family members getting ready to leave the military can become part-time Lyft drivers, giving them the flexibility to earn revenue during a time of transition. This can free the service member up for job searching, and the inevitable VA medical appointments that come with a transition to civilian life.
“Partnering with Lyft makes it easier for members of our military community to explore new economic opportunities, make it to medical appointments on time, and to take the leap into the next phase of their lives,” said William Fehrenbach, site manager at the Lakewood USO Transition Center for Innovation.
In addition to job training, many veterans also may find a sense of purpose in continuing their education through the use of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, which covers an individual veteran’s tuition expenses while providing a modest monthly living stipend — which varies depending on the student’s location — as well as a quarterly book stipend.
This transition, too, can be a harrowing and isolating one for individuals who find they have little in common with their much younger peers. However, many schools, such as the University of Washington Bothell, have social organizations under the auspices of Student Veterans of America, which meet regularly and provide veterans a sense of comradery that is otherwise missing from their classrooms.
Additionally, veterans may be able to use their G.I. Bill benefits at any number of job training programs that have been approved by the U.S. government. Recently, Bellevue-based Coding Dojo was approved by the government to begin accepting the G.I. Bill, offsetting the more than $10,000 in tuition for its 14-week program, which can earn veterans jobs at companies like Amazon, Chase, and Uber.
Some veterans find their military-instilled skills are more aptly used in entrepreneurship. The Washington Department of Veteran’s Affairs lists more than 750 certified veteran-owned businesses in Washington, a supply fueled in part by Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Naval Base Kitsap. In fact, veteran-owned businesses comprised 9.1 percent of the U.S. total and employed 6 million people in 2012. Veterans who are interested in starting their own business can turn to organizations like Bunker Labs Seattle, which teaches veterans about all things startup.
For more information about bridging the gap between military service and civilian life, visit any number of veteran transition organizations, including the Veteran Transition Support organization, online.