Where are you from? I’ve never been able to answer that question. Hometowns do not exist for those who grow up in a military family; home is, and always will be, wherever I happen to lie my head down at night. This year will mark my 15 move. That number does not include the four locations I lived in one geographical area nor does it include any move before the age of five or the few times I was sent to various schools the military decided to send me to.
How does this pertain to Veteran’s employment? Let me explain…
I’ve had the luxury of having two careers almost simultaneously. I have 20 years experience as an Aviation Electronics Technician in the Navy and over 10 years experience as a Medical Practice Administrator in the civilian workforce. Due to this lifestyle, my resume has become almost a timeline of my entire adult life. While of course it emphasizes experience and education it also draws attention to the many times I have moved including a recall to active duty for which I left a job I’d been at less than 90 days. These highlights can be either helpful or harmful depending on whoever happens to be doing the hiring.
Four months ago, I found myself looking for new employment in the civilian sector. Long story short, I’m serving on extended orders overseas while attempting to look for civilian employment in anticipation of my return to the U.S. I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes over the past four months and have had five interviews with two companies. I was lucky enough to get the interviews I have had but it was not an easy task. In each of my interviews, my military experience obviously came up and it was evident that it was an issue. Not that my experience meant little but the fear of my being called up again and my availability came into question several times. I found this odd but even more so, discouraging. After the last interview, I really started thinking as to why I would not be considered for one of the open positions. I was told that I had the qualifications, experience, and that they were sure I could handle the job but my availability was in question due to my commitment to the Navy Reserves. They weren’t sure they wanted to hire me because I may have to leave unexpectedly. From a business standpoint, I understand their concern; who wants to hire someone who may have to leave due to a national crisis? They do have a business to run after all. However, the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. I am but 1 reservist in a sea of thousands of others who, especially since 9/11, have found themselves in this exact situation at least once in the last 11 years. My experience cannot be that uncommon to that of my fellow reserve/guardsmen and of those who have recently separated from active duty; I can’t be the only one who has experienced this opaque form of discrimination.
Still, it is not merely the fact that qualified Veterans and active reservists and guardsmen are being turned away for positions due to their military affiliation that is upsetting; it is also that many seem to lack the compulsory education/certifications for particular occupations as determined by mainstream America (the 99 percent). Admiral Mike Mullen has expressed sentiments that there is a growing disconnect between the 1 percent of our nation’s actively serving population and the rest of our citizens. This attitude is clearly apparent in the civilian job market. How do we, as Veterans, explain to that 99 percent that we are worth hiring? That we have skills and experience that our civilian counterparts of the same age will never in their lives experience or even comprehend? That we are adaptable, disciplined, can take (and give) direction, perform under pressure and work with diverse populations? That they need to take a chance on the other 1 percent?
In speaking with a fellow Veteran recently, maybe the onus isn’t on the 1 percent but the other 99 percent. Why is it that military members receive extensive training in the fields of electronics, medicine, mechanics, aviation, and administration yet we can barely get a nationally accredited university to grant us little more than three credit hours towards physical education (because we were smart enough to complete boot camp). While we are able to apply for and received certifications in some career fields, they are either not enough, or are not recognized, by many employers. We can continue to write resumes and attempt to translate our skills into civilian terms yet without education that is nationally recognized, we’re back at square one. The GI Bill is an outstanding benefit and most service members take advantage of it in some capacity but many Veterans should be at least 50 percent completed with their degrees simply by the amount of education and experience they’ve received through the military. At the very least, they should be allowed to test their competency without having to re-take formal classes. How can we not grant the required qualifications necessary to obtain employment in the civilian sector to deserving Veterans? How do we tell a military police officer that while he is qualified to carry a weapon and serve in a combat zone that he is not qualified for employment with his hometown police force because he has not gone through their training academy? How is he good enough to go to war but not good enough to respond to 911 calls?
While recent legislation such as the Returning Heroes and Wounded Warriors Tax Credits offer employers a tax incentive to hire certain unemployed and service-disabled Veterans, it’s disheartening that our nation must entice business owners with a monetary bonus to hire those who have already given so much. However, I believe that the reason this legislation actually passed is because we already know that the system is backwards. Our elected leaders suddenly had an ‘Aha’ moment and decided they needed to do something about the high unemployment rate amongst Veterans but instead of requiring that the Department of Defense and America’s numerous college and universities work together to offer certifications and more credits towards college degrees, they decided to tempt employers into hiring us the only way they know how-with money. All we really need to do is give credit where credit is due; it’s a quite simple concept.
My personal resume screams “no longevity” to a potential employer though it is clear that I have a military background. I feel very strongly that it is not merely the fact that I have had several moves that is hurting my employment prospects, it is that employers are still under the false impression that an individual will stay with them for longer than a few years. We live in a highly mobile society; gone are the days of pensions for employees who stuck around a company long enough to attain them. The 99 percent must take the chance on hiring Veterans who will give them the best of what they have while they are there regardless of how long that may be. Additionally, our nation must make it less cumbersome for Veterans to obtain the education required to make them successful and competitive with their civilian peers.
However until our nation rights itself in this respect, we, as Veterans, will continue to carry on as we always have and will adapt and overcome the adversity handed out by our own countrymen.
Nichole Olson has served on both active and reserve duty with the U.S. Navy the last 20 years. She will retire from the Navy Reserves later this year.