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Why Military Veterans Have a Hard Time Getting a Job

There are many reasons why military veterans have a hard time getting a job or working when returning home.

By Fred Eugene ParkPublished 5 years ago 8 min read

There are few bigger sacrifices that an individual can make than fighting for their country. Around the world, our military helps to keep our citizens and civilians everywhere safe from terror. Though much respect and admiration is extended to the American veterans of foreign war, considerably less help and resources are available to these brave men and women when they leave the armed forces.

Though there has been much coverage and awareness surrounding the inadequacies of the V.A. health system and other bureaucratic failings of the system, most people don't realize the incredibly corrupt, prejudicial, and inadequate nature of veteran employment. Though many people are willing to celebrate the service of our nation's warriors, some seem reluctant to hire them for certain jobs. Whether for reasons of prejudice or personal issues, many soldiers cannot find employment when returning home. In order to understand why military veterans have a hard time getting a job, we need to look at their background.

Limited Credentials and Education

When many veterans return home from their tours of duty, they find it quite difficult to find well paying jobs that they are qualified to work. In many cases, those who go into the military do so because they are lacking in other viable options. Consequently, most soldiers are coming right out of high school into the armed forces, often leaving them without any higher education when they are done. Though many underprivileged soldiers are able to attend college with the financial support of the military, their time in active duty inevitably sets them back several years in their educational paths, forcing them to have to often work multiple low paying jobs to sustain and feed themselves.

Leaving the forces in one's early twenties without any civilian job credentials during that time can unfairly set veterans back in their search for gainful employment. While those who seek higher education with the armed forces are open to a number of new opportunities, those who do not have considerably fewer options. When realizing most of the skills learned and used in the military are not useful to civilians, it becomes a bit clearer why military veterans have a hard time getting a job. Good news is that there are many jobs for military veterans without a college education.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

In today's day and age, it is hardly a secret that most of our nation's military heroes experience a lot of psychological problems after their service has ended. Despite the numerous issues and struggles the are known to face, post traumatic stress disorder is one of the biggest reasons why military veterans have a hard time getting a job. Though this has been observed and somewhat understood in a diagnostic capacity as far back as the Civil War, it was long considered as matter that was not fitting to acknowledged in polite society.

Shaken by the change of pace and mood in their lives, veterans can often be haunted by thoughts or even hallucinations that can often be inadvertently triggered. After facing great amounts of trauma with great frequency over an extended period of time, it is common for the mind to retain such memories subconsciously, long after the danger they conjure is gone from one's life. Accordingly, certain sounds, sights, and other stimuli that are reminiscent their experiences can trigger the haunting visions and flashbacks that we most associate with this condition.

Difficult Transition

Though major life changes can be trying for most anyone, they are greatly more difficult for veterans transitioning back to the different atmosphere of civilian life. From moving to a new town to starting fresh at a new school or college, it is difficult for people to drastically alter the underpinnings of their lives. Coming from an environment of strict scheduling, early rising, and responding to extreme violence and danger, few soldiers will take to the much less regimented and dangerous world of working a day job without some disorientation.

With the heightened anxiety and vigilance ingrained in the basic training of the military, returning soldiers will often be a bit jumpy and paranoid. Leaving a place where vigilance saves lives, it is sometimes hard to convince some veterans that the world around them is perfectly safe. Consequently, it is not uncommon for some veterans to become shut ins, both fearful of the world outside and no longer well equipped to converse in mainstream society.

Still in Active Duty

Though some veterans on the job hunt are lucky to have completed their military service definitively, many return with the knowledge that they will likely be called back into service at some point in time. Unfortunately, soldiers can rarely predict when this might happen, making it exceedingly difficult to make any sort of plans for the future. Consequently, active duty combat veterans must often disclose this unfortunate reality to prospective employers.

Because they are unsure of the duration that these veterans will potentially work for them, employers are likely to pass on active duty soldiers, regardless of qualifications or compatibility. As you can imagine, it is very nearly impossible to get a job when you cannot give your potential employer any kind of idea how long you are able to work for them before being recalled.

Job Competition and Lost Time

Like anyone else trying to get into a job industry, veterans have to deal with a great deal of competition for many of the jobs they seek. Aside from the types of jobs than can exploit a veteran's learned skills, veterans are often on a level playing field with everyone else of the same relevant professional qualifications in a job search. Though some soldiers are able to attend college in return for their service, this does not necessarily give them an edge up on civilian applicants to jobs, in fact, a civilian of the same age may be seen by hiring managers to have more relevant work experience, even for the best jobs for military veterans.

Because veterans have sacrificed a substantial chunk of their lives to defend the nation full time, they often have no other sources of employment during their service. Because many high level and managerial positions in the service industry come with experience and promotion, these opportunities are not afforded to veterans, regardless of their natural leadership skills.

Prejudicial Hiring Practices

Though we live in a time where society is the most tolerant and accepting it has ever been, certain people harbor certain perceptions of other groups of people. While racism and sexism are the most commonly called out forms of intolerance and prejudice, we often fail to see other forms that are just as prevalent. Since the Vietnam War, Americans have remained pretty fiercely divided on military issues. At the time of the war, protesters rallied against the war and demonstrated both violently and peacefully. Sadly, many of these protesters also harassed and demonized the returning soldiers, disparaging them and blaming them for the violence that took place. While their overall protest of the war may have been justified, they were far out of line with their treatment of the soldiers, not realizing that most were not there by choice and were part of a chain of authority.

Consequently, some veterans have had difficulty being hired by those staunchly opposed to that and subsequent conflicts. Additionally, some cowardly potential employers may pass on veterans for job opportunities simply because they are intimidated by their stature and build, or the largely undeserved negative reputation that often comes with being a military veteran. Many human resources departments fear that some veterans could be volatile or problematic, which is why they often hesitate to hire veterans.


There are few people in the world that are more fiercely loyal than soldiers. Sharing the traumas of war, soldiers have a sense of camaraderie that is stronger than words can express. Thrown into very dangerous situations together, soldiers feel a sense of duty to protect one another and take it deeply personally when one of their co-workers is killed in action. In some cases, soldiers are forced to return home as a result of injuries that are too severe to fight through.

Often not wanting to return home while their friends remain fighting, many wounded warriors are plagued by a sense of guilt, believing that they do not deserve to be home while their brethren fight. Consumed by this sense that they have betrayed or abandoned their brothers in arms, some veterans are unable to focus on putting their life back together and living productively, keeping them from getting out there to find a job.

High Unemployment

With unemployment ever looming in American society, it is little surprise that lack of jobs is a paramount concern for returning and long retired U.S. veterans. According to the Department of Labor, the veteran unemployment rate sits at 3.1% as of November 2018. Though this is lower than the overall 3.4% unemployment rate and down from the 2016 veteran unemployment figure of 4.3%, many veterans continue to search or want for work. Because many veterans return from duty with little more than the small money they were paid and the clothes on their back, they find themselves competing for less skilled jobs, where the job applicants are numerous and qualifications are irrelevant.

In such scenarios, there are many viable applicants for the position, so it is critical to present oneself well, as it could be anyone's game. Because there is no shortage of prospective unskilled laborers in the country, those who return to civilian life without a degree are often at a distinct disadvantage when trying to start a life. As long as unemployment is high, veterans will have a challenging amount of competition on the low end job market.

Civilian jobs are different.

While many lower end jobs are not inherently challenging in the traditional sense, they vary differently from the hectic and fast pace of life in an active combat zone. Though the average civilian person would not face much if any challenge in taking on such a job, life can be very different for military veterans and service members who have survived moments of profound trauma and years of uncertainty and distrust.

After working such a confrontational career for such a long time, most soldiers have difficulty feeling at home and present in a mundane public atmosphere. Because they have spent many months or even years expecting the worst from human contact, it can be hard to work among people, especially in crowded, noisy workplaces like stores and other public gathering spaces, retaining much of the anxiety of their time in combat. Fortunately, there are many civilian jobs that are similar to military life.

Military skills don't always translate.

While serving in the armed forces can teach a person a lot about discipline, loyalty, obedience, and work ethic, few jobs are even truly similar to the duties performed on the battlefield. Though the life skills they have gained would certainly make them excellent employees in many cases, veterans often lack on-paper credentials that some civilian applicants possess. There can be great life value in military experience, but it is not always the most useful item on a résumé.

Though veterans can often use their physical prowess to make money doing manual labor, back breaking work is not something that you can do for your entire life. Because of the relatively wide gap in skills between combat service and most civilian jobs, veterans often have to start at lower level positions, setting them back in progress considerably from those who did not unselfishly sacrifice multiple years for their country. We say we support our veterans, but few of us realize that we can all do something to change many of the reasons why military veterans have a hard time getting a job in our country.


About the Creator

Fred Eugene Park

Fred Park is a writer, singer and guitarist with a deep passion for music, sports and history. Fred graduated from Purchase College in 2016 with a BA in history.

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