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Veterans’ Transition to Work Force Not Easy, Study Finds

The data points are overwhelming – veterans continue to report having trouble integrating into the civilian work force once they hang up their combat boots. A recent survey by Prudential, the Veterans Employment Challenges survey, measured the experiences of some 1,845 post-9/11 veterans from all services to gauge their challenges to returning to civilian life.

Almost all of them, 98 percent, reported at least one service-related challenge to entering or re-entering the civilian work force, And two thirds of veterans reported struggling with three or more obstacles to employment.

The report comes in the context of stubbornly high unemployment rates, particularly among younger veterans in the 18 to 24 age group. In 2011, veterans in this demographic reported a 30.2 percent unemployment rate, compared to 16.1 percent among civilians in the same age range.

An astute observer would note, of course, that a first enlistment is six years long. So those seeking employment in this age range would be more likely to be those who have been wounded or injured and medically separated, or separated for some other reason prior to the completion of their first enlistment.

However, unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans also remains consistently and substantially above the unemployment rate of the civilian sector, Prudential’s researchers found, citing the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Specifically, unemployment in the two camps has tracked as follows:

War on Terror Veterans Civilians

2008           7.3 percent 5.2 percent

2009          10.2 percent 8.6 percent
2010           11.5 percent 9.4 percent
2011           12.1 percent 8.7 percent

The survey found that unemployment among vets is apparently more severe than the BLS statistics would indicate: One in five vets surveyed are unemployed and currently seeking employment – a rate that translates to roughly 20 percent unemployment. According to the survey, veterans reported they need the most help with networking skills.

Transition Services Ineffective

If you recently transitioned out of the service, and you found the Transition Assistance Program to be ineffective, you aren’t alone. 55 percent of veterans attended a TAP seminar, but more than half of veterans found TAP to be ineffective. Furthermore, the Army is lagging behind the Navy Department services: Sailors and marines received TAP assistance at twice the rate of Army soldiers.

Transition Challenges

The survey found that finding that first real job as a civilian was the top challenge in transitioning to the civilian world. Second was the challenge of navigating the VA and related benefit systems, at 53 percent. The runner-ups:

  • 49 percent reported issues with relating to non-veterans.
  • 48 percent mentioned “readjusting to social life”.
  • 45 percent selected “others not culturally competent of veteran.”.
  • 36 percent reported issues with reacclimating to family life.
  • 36 percent reported challenges in finding support to handle physical and mental health issues.

Additionally, 31 percent of veterans reported feeling that employers don’t understand or are insensitive to veterans, 28 percent believe that employers don’t believe that veterans have relevant skill sets, and 24 percent believe that employers actively avoid hiring veterans, due to a fear of reserve commitments, future deployments, PTSD issues, emotional volatility and baggage.

Health Issues Are Prominent

Among the roughly half of veterans who felt they did not feel ready to transition, only 22 percent stated that that was due to a physical health challenge. But 40 percent reported mental health challenges as a factor prohibiting them from reintegrating into civilian life – another window into the severity of the mental health issue across a broad swathe of the veteran population.

This information comes in the wake of revelations that wait times to see a mental health professional in the mental health fields can be months long.

  • 65 percent of veterans surveyed report health-related challenges, in total.
  • 33 percent report a physical disability.
  • 19 percent state they are recovering from an injury.
  • 33 percent cite post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • 31 percent report other psychological stressors as factors in their transition.

Among those not currently seeking employment, one in five – 22 percent – cited being discouraged by a tough economy and the unavailability of jobs.

Reserve Component Issues

40 percent of reserve component members surveyed report concerns about employer support for their reserve and National Guard commitments. While the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) provides some limited protection for veterans, in practice, unsupportive employers can still make life difficult for veterans who find themselves caught between their military duties and their employers’ demands.


From the study’s own Methodology section: “Prudential’s study, Veterans’ Employment Challenges, polled 2,453 veterans and soon-to-be veterans in an online survey from December 12, 2011, through January 23, 2012. The margin of error is ± 1.98%, at the 95% confidence level.”

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