New Study Outlines Economic & Employment Challenges Facing U.S. Veterans

America needs to rethink its model for veteran employment

For Immediate Release:
Contact:  Vicki Bendure,
540-687-3360/202-374-9259 c

David Burch,
703-341-5054/404-664-1942 c

ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 12, 2015—Too often, veterans have a difficult time securing quality employment as part of the transition from military to civilian life. There is a need for more resources to help them do so, according to a new study released today by Volunteers of America in partnership with the University of Southern California’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families.  The study, Exploring the Economic & Employment Challenges Facing U.S. Veterans: A Qualitative Study of Volunteers of America Service Providers & Veteran Clients, looks at reasons veterans find it difficult to get and keep jobs.

In some cases, veterans return from military service where good wages were earned ($80K per year and more) to pursue mission-oriented endeavors only to find low-wage, menial employment as the only option at home because their military skills do not translate to civilian employment needs.  The report emphasizes that we develop “civilian basic training” modules as part of an effort to facilitate community reintegration success for veterans. While those veterans surveyed cited receiving intensive basic training to prepare them for life in the military life that included indoctrinating them with a culture of selflessness and acceptance of a common mission—virtues that can be liabilities in civilian life—these same veterans received no training on managing the transition to civilian life.  Veterans overwhelmingly cited a desire for more guidance to help with this transition from the military, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and civilian entities.

“Veterans are a tremendous asset in our communities around the country and must be given opportunities to perform as civilians just as they did in the military which requires solid ground” stated Jonathan Sherin, M.D., PhD, executive vice president, military communities and chief medical officer for Volunteers of America. “In general, veterans have a loyalty to their employer and a work ethic that isn’t found in typical civilian culture.”  According to Sherin, who has worked extensively with returning vets and is an expert regarding community reintegration challenges, “Many veterans report surprise and frustration in discovering that their civilian co-workers do not share their [the veterans’] same conscientious and disciplined attitude in the workplace.  That isn’t how things work in the military,” Sherin added. 

Not surprisingly, the report found PTSD to be the leading predictor of veteran unemployment.  The VA estimates that combat-related PTSD afflicts anywhere between 10 to 31% of all U.S. military veterans (rates vary depending on the veteran’s conflict and length of service.)  The research confirms that employers remain wary of hiring veterans suffering from PTSD and/or any other mental health issues. Education and training remain important to helping employers understand the value veterans can provide to their companies and how the unique skills they acquired during military service prepare them to be leaders to the civilian workplace.

The study also points out that, because there are few things that can replace the fellowship and camaraderie of the military, returning veterans experience relationship gaps in their lives.  On that note, there are huge benefits to veterans’ working together as peers as they do in Volunteers of America’s “Battle-Buddy-Bridge” program. This program, which trains and certifies veterans as peer support specialists who help their brothers and sisters (other veterans) navigate community resources, leverages the special power and trust that exist in the veteran-to-veteran relationship. In Los Angeles, Volunteers of America battle buddies are helping chronic homeless veterans put their lives back together by connecting them to the key benefits and services needed to exit the homeless ranks.  As Sherin puts it, “Many more of these peer programs are needed in markets throughout the nation. Our aspirational, broad vision is to stand up a brigade of trained and certified peers in communities across our network by 2020 and hope that we would be just one of many organizations to support such an initiative as it would employ numerous veterans desiring team and mission oriented activities and help address the access barriers for others.”

Lastly, the report stresses the need for employment programs that help all veterans, including those with other than honorable discharges and those involved with the justice system, many of whom access services through Volunteers of America. It suggests that Volunteers of America has an opportunity to take the lead in establishing an innovative set of civilian “retraining” programs for veterans to expand its holistic prevention and early intervention strategies. As a national organization, Volunteers of America can also play a part by taking the lead on strengthening communication across sectors, supporting a culture of innovation and information sharing through webinars and conferences and by funding pilot programs/projects to address challenging issues such as employment barriers that face our veterans.

Volunteers of America is one of the largest providers of support to homeless and other vulnerable veterans in the U.S., serving more than 40,000 veterans annually. The organization operates more than 400 programs nationally giving veterans access to peer support, care coordination, housing, health and mental health care, employment services, training programs, benefits assistance, legal services and more.  One of the biggest challenges the organization faces is helping veterans find and keep good jobs.  In an effort to effectively address this challenge going forward, Volunteers of America undertook this study.

For a copy of the report, go to

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About Volunteers of America

Last year alone, Volunteers of America helped more than 40,000 homeless veterans across the U.S.  The organization is one of the largest national providers of housing and programs for homeless veterans and their families. The organization is a national, faith-based nonprofit dedicated to helping America's most vulnerable groups, many of whom have endured trauma—including seniors, at-risk youth, homeless and incarcerated—to rebuild their lives. Responding in particular to the challenges facing veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq, too many of whom suffer from traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as those who served in prior conflicts, Volunteers of America is assisting with a variety of needs, from housing to counseling to job training and assistance with employment. Volunteers of America has veterans programs around the country, including special housing, services and programs for returning veterans as well as aging vets. Programs for women veterans are also helping single mothers and other female veterans who are finding it difficult to transition back into civilian life.