YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Integrating back into civilian life is a battle veterans face when leaving the service – but there are resources that can ease the transition.
More than 200,000 service members transition to civilian life each year. As these veterans prepare to meet the demands of the civilian workplace, many face challenges finding job opportunities that match their military experience and skills, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
The Youngstown State University Carl A. Nunziato Veterans Resource Center serves as a space on campus to guide veterans on their college journeys.
“If you’re a 26-year-old veteran who has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and you’re sitting in a classroom with an 18-year-old kid that just graduated from high school, a lot of times your viewpoints are going to be a little different,” the center’s associate director Rick Williams says. The average student veteran is older than the average college student – most are between the ages of 24 and 40 according to Student Veterans of America.
In 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill was introduced, and the United States saw an influx of veterans entering colleges, Williams says.
The Post-9/11 GI program is comprised of multiple payments: full tuition for students attending public school or up to $26,381.37 per academic year for a private or foreign school; a $1,000 stipend for books, and in some cases, a one-time $500 benefit for individuals relocating from highly rural areas. The bill also provides a monthly housing stipend adjusted for the area’s cost of living. The Youngstown area monthly stipend is $1,005.
“Some of these kids are paying $700 or $750 a month to live in apartments on campus. So that leaves you $250 or $300 for groceries and gas, and it just doesn’t work,” Williams says. “On top of the fact that they’re a nontraditional student, and they don’t feel comfortable in the classroom. So, it can be a challenge for student veterans.”
There are 234 student veterans on YSU’s campus this semester, and 156 are using the GI Bill. Williams says the 76 students not using the GI Bill might not qualify for it because of being out of the service for more than 15 years, or they have other sources of funding.
Williams says helping students navigate funding is one of the most important services the center offers. Many students have several sources of funding and cutting through the red tape can be tricky.
Another important service is helping veterans get college credit for military training. A military policeman gets six credit hours toward their degree for going through basic training. After completing military police training, they get 15 more for a total 21 credits toward a criminal justice degree.
“They’re almost done with their freshman year as a result of being a military policeman,” Williams says. Some military careers do not align well with YSU’s degrees options, or the student might choose a major unrelated to their previous experience. Either way, Williams says the center works to get them credit.
Educational support is another important component to the center. “They go serve for five, six years in the military. They come back, and now they have this GI bill that pays for almost everything and they want to go to college. But they’re no more academically prepared now than they were six years ago when they left high school. So some struggle,” Williams says.
The center helps student veterans find tutoring clinics, acts as a liaison between the student and professor to line up appointments, and refers them to the Academic Success Center on campus where fellow students will accompany them to class to take and compare notes to make sure the student understands the material.
“We try and go above and beyond to make sure student veterans are successful academically,” Williams says.
Veterans entering the workforce directly can be guided by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services into a career that fits their experience and needs.
OhioMeansJobs has centers in every region of Ohio that offer assistance to veterans. Through these centers, veterans can map their military skills to help build their résumé and search for a new career and learn how their miliary occupation code/title translates to careers.
A United States Marine Corps veteran, who asked to remain anonymous, first used the program in 2001 after leaving his position as an avionics technician.
Shortly after leaving the service, 9/11 occurred and his job possibilities were significantly reduced.
Thousands of aircraft manufacturing workers lost their jobs in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, as airplane orders collapsed. Within a year of the attacks, Boeing had laid off up to 30,000 workers, according to CNN.
The representative at the state office told him to fall back on his Marines experience to find a job outside of his original wheelhouse.
“That job market was gone. So, when I went back in, he said, ‘Well, you’re a Marine, you can always fall back on being a security guard.’ I did 10 years as a security supervisor,” he says.
He says the biggest challenge he found when re-entering the workforce was the different mindset between civilians and servicemen.
“You come out and you have that mentality as part of a team. I’m a part of something bigger than me. And then you get a job, and to these people you’re just a number. They don’t care about you. Your part doesn’t really matter,” he says.
Another common challenge for veterans is the amount of downtime a full-time job gives compared to military life. This gives veterans time to process what they once compartmentalized, which can be traumatic and painful.
He advises veterans to seek counseling through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and use all services and resources available to them.
“They get back and they realize, ‘I’ve done things that weren’t good.’ Then they have a lot harder of a time dealing with it,” he says.
He eventually found a job helping other veterans that he describes as fulfilling and meaningful.
“This is what I really want to do. I want to help other vets. This is great – I leave every single day feeling like I did something,” he says.