For the Americans serving overseas, coming home means crossing more than one kind of ocean. Newly returned veterans have to navigate a sea of change that envelops nearly every aspect of daily life. Civilian living comes with an entirely different set of responsibilities, all of which must be balanced while acclimating to a community and culture far departed from the lifestyle of military duty.
A nationwide poll by the Washington Post reveals insight into the post-service experiences of America’s 2.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Around half of those polled said their transition was “difficult.” They said challenges stem from a variety of factors, such as struggles getting a job and insufficient support from the government.
Such complications arise despite efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Pentagon and the administration to ease the shift into life off-tour. One major federal initiative is the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which since its introduction in 2009 has funded the tuitions of over 1 million service members. Other recent VA programs have resulted in improved healthcare options for 800,000 new patients. Another, the Blue Button program, made electronic health records for veterans readily accessible at no cost.
In 2011, the Pentagon and Veterans Affairs introduced a mandatory, 40-hour training program to help active, reserve and National Guard veterans with a range of civilian tasks, from managing finances to building a strong resume. In addition, the Obama administration’s “Joining Forces” campaign encouraged U.S. companies to hire 100,000 veterans by the end of 2013. By April 2014, American businesses had hired over 380,000 veterans and military spouses. Other administrative measures include the Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, created in 2012 with the goal of prompting all 50 states to act toward ensuring veterans have the credentials needed to find employment.
In response to the Washington Post poll, 66% of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans said they believe that they are well-equipped for the job market, while 81% believe their skills would be useful toward civilian employment. But the employment rate of veterans that served post-911 tells a different story. At 10%, unemployment among recent vets is markedly higher than U.S. veterans at large (6.3%). For many who served, it’s clear that government efforts fall short of providing adequate support to solve employment difficulties and other post-service issues. Only 41% of poll participants said the government is doing an “excellent or “good” job of meeting veterans’ needs, while 56% consider current services to be “not so good” or “poor.”
To solve these issues, greater collaboration is needed. Government partnership with private and nonprofit groups seeking to employ veterans is essential, and doing so requires an efficient system for the (ethical) sharing of relevant information between federal departments and potential employers. Accomplishing the cleanest possible transition into non-military life will also take cooperation between Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense; for instance, partnership between both departments should ensure that veteran health records held by the Defense Department are transferred seamlessly to Veterans Affairs, where service members can easily reach them. Better communication between federal, state and local agencies will also ensure that vital information is readily available for veterans’ aid organizations working at a community level. Beyond that, a regularly updated, comprehensive analysis of veteran demographics will serve to direct policy initiatives and program development.