The Challenge of Veteran Unemployment


The United States military is widely regarded as one of the most advanced and well-trained in the world. Despite our military’s size and history of innovation, servicemen and women often struggle to transition into civilian employment once their military careers come to a close.

This seems like a contradiction. How can the men and women behind one of the most respected military presences in the world not be some of the most desired job candidates for civilian positions? It would seem that their experience and training would make their value clear to civilian recruiters and business owners, but there remains a challenge for our nation’s veterans. Many of them cannot find civilian employment, and the issue is actually quite complex.

According to the Department of Labor, 450,000 veterans (out of a total of about 21 million in the U.S.) are unemployed and seeking employment. The good news is that this number is the result of a downward trend, where the 4.6 percent veteran unemployment rate in 2015 fell to 4.3 percent in 2016. Though that number still spikes upward from time to time, veteran unemployment has for the most part recovered from its recession-level extremes.

But 450,000 unemployed veterans is still a lot.

Transitioning to civilian life, especially post-deployment, is not always an easy process. For example, the American Psychological Association reports that of the 1.7 million veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, 20 percent suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression. So, from the start, many veterans are at a significant disadvantage by virtue of the adversity they’ve had to endure in their military careers carrying over into their new civilian life.

From there, it does not get easier.

For the veterans that saw the military as their education—taking on leadership positions and roles that often meant being responsible for people’s lives as well as million dollar equipment—not having a college degree disadvantages them. Many electronic recruiting systems automatically filter out candidates without the prerequisite education required for a positioning, completely ignoring what might be an equivalent military education or experience. When a resume does reach an actual recruiter, that recruiter might not be able to parse how a veteran’s military experience applies to the corporate position he or she is applying for.

Oversights at both ends of the interaction are to blame for this problem. Just as recruiters often do not have insight into the value of military experience, veterans are often under-prepared for the basics of resume creation and job searching while at the same time lacking the ability to communicate to a civilian business how military experience translates to the job at hand (according to the National Veterans Foundation).

To solve the problem of veteran employment, we need civilian business owners and recruiters to be more open-minded about the applicability of military experience and to perhaps pursue some additional education on what military experience would be valuable for their workplaces. At the same time, we need to support the organizations and services that help veterans transition into civilian life, teaching them the job-search process and helping them to fully communicate their value.

The more hands working on the issue, the more veterans we will see continuing their impact on our nation by utilizing their skills in a new environment.


Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters used with permission under Creative Commons License.