Thousands of military personnel attend the Department of Labor’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) each year as they exit the military service and enter the civilian workforce. With the sea of endless Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) that offer additional mentorship and career guidance, it is a great paradox that veterans continue to have high employment turnover post-service.

Workshopping the Military Transition

Many theories seem to support a common belief as to why these struggles seem to be so prominent within the veteran community. One belief is that veterans struggle to fit into the civilian culture of their chosen organizations and oftentimes are seen as a duck out of water. Typically, being seen as different within an organization can lead to unnecessary challenges, as you are tasked with adapting a brand-new culture to be accepted by your peers. Regardless of the amount of preparation that is offered to our transitioning service members, this experience is something that must be learned through trial and tribulation. No amount of career guidance or military transition workshops can duplicate the experience and understanding it first-hand.

Ignoring Red Flags

Another theory that contributes to veteran employment turnover is chalked up to the “Grass is always greener on the other side” mentality. Eager service members anxiously look to accept the first job offer that they receive to secure stability for their family and move forward as quickly as possible to avoid financial hardships. When a service member is in this state of mind, they are often more susceptible to accepting lower-paying salaries and willing to overlook subtle red flags that the organization may not be a good fit. Ignoring these initial red flag implications can cause the veteran to be stuck in a job that is not fulfilling their potential and can leave a sense of numbness and lack of purpose. Eventually, the veteran will find themselves looking for a new job and a better cultural fit.

Finding a Place to Be Authentic

The difficult truth to this reality is that veterans are different than their civilian colleagues and will often be faced with choosing a  paycheck over a sense of belonging. This realization heavily impacts veterans’ sense of worth and fulfillment on the job. There will be an inevitable ethical dilemma that will need to be addressed to find employment that is more authentically aligned with who they are. These conversations are never easy and most would prefer to push through the obstacles and try to change the culture than to quit. This stubborn mindset can create havoc on veterans’ mental health when they are relentlessly trying to “fix” an organization that is not interested in their ambitions. In turn, the cycle of frustration and feelings of being misplaced within the organization will continue. Veterans will have to choose to conform to the organizational culture or find employment elsewhere that accepts them as they are.

Waving the Veteran Friendly Flag

A turning point throughout the last decade has been employers identifying as “Veteran Friendly” to better direct those service members from being displaced post-service. The notion of being Veteran Friendly is intended to advocate their cultural diversity and inclusivity which would better support transitioning service members into the civilian sector. While there is certainly some debate as to how accurate or effective these initiatives are, I would be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge the intention of the initiative and state that it is a definite step in the right direction to better assist displaced service members in their job search.

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Carin Richelle Sendra is a Post 9/11 USAF Veteran that served both in active duty as well as D.O.D security contracting OCONUS. She has spent time in both the private and public sector working within the Human Capital space assisting organizations to train and develop their teams. She has spent time as a lecturer for academic and professional development. Carin has spent several years supporting the military and veteran community while offering her unique perspective that many veterans encounter post-service. She has a Master's degree in Management studies from The University of Redlands and a certificate from Cornell University on The Psychology of Leadership.