Veterans are some of the people who have made the greatest personal sacrifices for the good of their nation; and yet, when they return home to civilian life, they are also some of the people who have the greatest difficulties with finding a job and sustaining an ordinary life. This sample expository essay delves further into the question of why this is so.
Overview of current veterans
To start with, it is worth pointing out that the members of the armed forces are often quite intelligent people who should have no intrinsic problem with finding work. As Kane has pointed out:
“Almost half a century after the U.S. military adopted an All-Volunteer Force of highly skilled, highly trained, high-IQ warriors, the myth of the stupid soldier lives on. Numerous studies have debunked it. Today, almost no one who scores in the bottom 40 percent of cognitive tests is allowed into the Marine Corps., Navy, Army, or Air Force” (paragraph 1).
In other words, if veterans are having difficulties with finding work when they get back home to civilian life, then this is not because they would have incapable of work anyway. There is something else going on, here; the difficulties must be attributed to specific features of the life experiences of the veterans.
Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan
Veterans in the year 2016 are mostly (although not exclusively) veterans of the recent American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are of course older veterans from America’s previous wars in the twentieth century, such as the one in Vietnam and the original Gulf War in the early 1990s; but this population is probably dwindling by now, relative to the new crop of veterans emerging from the more recent wars.
These veterans are in general in the primes of their lives, and it could be fully expected that they would be able to become productive members of society upon their return home. The fact that this is not happening constitutes a serious social as well as moral problems, and the purpose of the present essay is to at least attempt to get to the bottom of this matter.
Veteran’s problems with finding civilian jobs
There are several reasons why many companies are reluctant to hire veterans who are returning back home to civilian life. One of the most important ones probably consists of negative stereotypes. Lewis, for example, has put forth the following idea:
“Employers may…believe that veterans, used to following orders, can’t take initiative and are too rigid” (paragraph 6).
This stereotype is countered by the examples of actual companies that have hired veterans and found that their different perspective (based on different life experiences) can often be channeled in a creative way to enhance the value of the company as a whole and solve problems in unusual ways. But the very nature of a stereotype, of course, is that it is resistant to evidence and experience, and shapes perceptions on the basis of bad knowledge. In any event, many employers simply think of veterans as poorly adjusted to and suited for civilian life and thus liabilities as potential employees.
Vets lack of interview skills and experience
Another reason that veterans may have trouble with finding work is simply that they are not used to the process of finding work, writing resumes, or interviewing for potential work within the context of the contemporary American economy; that is, they lack job search skills. As Kane has noted:
“Young veterans, by definition, leave a stable job and enter what is to them a strange new world—American capitalism. The key evidence is that the unemployment difference between veterans and nonveterans evaporates over time. It decreases by almost half a percentage point each month after the average individual leaves service” (paragraph 7). It
It is wise, then, to not exaggerate the nature of the problem at hand. At least to some extent, the veterans’ problems with finding civilian work could simply be chalked up to lack of experience in finding such work; and such problems diminish as veterans actually gain life experience over time with respect to living in the civilian economy. This is a natural explanation that probably holds true as much for veterans as it does for older adults who grew up learning how to function within a very different kind of economy.
PTSD and mental illness in the workplace
And yet, there would, in fact, seem to be a darker and more intractable problem affecting the capacity of at least some veterans to find jobs. This problem consists of mental illness and veteran’s PTSD in the workplace. Indeed, one of the negative stereotypes of veterans held by potential employers is that they are all crazy, in the clinical sense of the word. This is obviously untrue, but the statistical evidence does indicate that veterans suffer from mental illness at disproportionally high rates.
Such a disability is one of the key reasons that veterans have trouble with finding work (Casselman). Of course, it is true that civilians who have such a disability will likely also experience difficulties with finding and/or keeping work; but the point here is that mental illness tends to affect veterans in a significantly disproportional way. It will thus be worth turning closer attention to the key problem of mental health issues among veterans.
Mental health Issues among veterans
It would seem that depression is a key mental health issue that is often developed by veterans. This is exemplified by the fact that Veterans’ Affairs (VA) has identified suicide prevention among veterans as a top priority:
“The VA estimated in 2012 that 22 veterans die each day by suicide…Given that at least four large states were not included in the calculations—California, Texas, Arizona, and North Carolina—the numbers could be higher” (paragraph 8).
If one is at the point of suicide, it would clearly be difficult to find and keep a job or to more generally take care of the responsibilities of everyday living. This is one of the key reasons why veterans experience difficulties with finding work within civilian work.
This is not a transient problem (i.e. one that could be solved by acquiring skills through simple life experience), and most of the veterans who are suffering from this kind of mental illness probably need some kind of special treatment and attention if they are to learn how to function effectively within society after returning home from the ordeal of war.
PTSD among veterans
Post-traumatic stress disorder is another key mental illness affecting veterans. According to Rothman et al., at least 55 percent of all veterans experience some form of post-traumatic stress disorder. This is due to the simple fact that the veterans have been in extreme situations involving life and death that could easily push the mind of any ordinary human being to the brink of madness.
After returning home from war, veterans often experience difficulties with processing the fact that they are now in a relatively safe environment where they will not have to fear for their lives; their nerves remain on edge, as it were, due to the extreme life experiences that they have had. Indeed, one of the main biases of employers against veterans is that many of them think that all veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and that they would thus make bad ordinary workers.
Solutions to the veteran job problem
On the basis of the above discussion, it is clear that the main thing that veterans need in order to overcome their difficulties with finding work within civilian society consists of adequate mental health care upon their return home from war. Most veterans experience mental health issues, for entirely understandable reasons; and insofar as these persist, it will clearly remain very difficult for them to function in an effective way within the context of civilian society.
If they are given adequate care that helps them overcome these issues, then there is every reason to believe that these veterans will be able to become integrated and productive members of society. Again, this is because the problems facing veterans emerge not from any intrinsic deficiencies on their part, but rather simply out of the extreme life experiences that they have undergone.
Veteran unemployment and other post-military problems
Widespread unemployment is one of the problems veterans face when returning home and could also be attributed to the more general economic factors that affect society as a whole. For example, the problem was worse in 2009 in the midst of the economic recession than it currently is in 2016, when the economy has more or less recovered (at least for the time being). Within this context, it would seem that the most important thing that veterans need is job search training (Kane).
This is because the military as an institution is relatively isolated from the contemporary economy (from the perspective of an employee of the military, anyway), which makes it difficult for veterans returning home to adjust to the dynamics of the civilian economy. Finally, the suggestion can also be made that perhaps some kind of public education campaign is needed in order to work toward diminishing existing stereotypes regarding veterans. Some of these stereotypes, especially the ones regarding mental illness, do have some truth to them; but the appropriate response clearly would not be for civilian society to more or less shun veterans for this reason.
In summary, the present essay has delved into the difficulties that veterans experience in finding civilian work when they return home from war. An important point that has been made here is that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with veterans that prevent them from finding work; rather, the difficulties emerge from their unique life experiences. Moreover, another important point that has been made is that it is imperative to ensure that veterans are provided with adequate mental health care and job search training upon their return to civilian life.
American Psychological Association. “The Critical Need for Mental Health Professionals Trained to Treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.” 2011. Web. 19 Mar. 2016. http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/military/critical-need.aspx.
Casselman, Ben. “Recent Veterans Struggle to Find Work.” FiveThirtyEight. 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2016. http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/recent-veterans-still-struggle-to-find-work/.
Dudek, B., and W. Szymczak. “The Role of Cognitive Schemata in the Development of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Results of Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Studies.” International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health 24.1 (2011): 29-35. Print.
Kane, Tim. “There’s a Reason America’s Vets Can’t Find Work but Not What Ben Bernanke Thinks It Is.” Foreign Policy. 5 Oct. 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2016. http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/10/05/theres-a-reason-americas-vets-cant-find-work-but-not-what-ben-bernanke-thinks/.
Kime, Patricia. “VA: Veterans Suicide Must be a Top Priority.” Military Times. 4 Jan. 2016. Web. 19 Mar. 2016. http://www.militarytimes.com/story/veterans/2016/02/04/va-veterans-suicide-must-top-priority/79821504/.
Lewis, Katherine Reynolds. “3 Reasons Why Companies Don’t Hire Veterans.” Fortune. 11 Nov. 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2016. http://fortune.com/2013/11/11/3-reasons-why-companies-dont-hire-veterans/.
Rothman, David, Eric F. Crawford, Mira Brancu, John A. Fairbank, and Harold S. Kudler. “Mental Health among Military Personnel and Veterans.” North Carolina Medical Journal 76.5 (2015). Web. 19 Mar. 2016. http://www.ncmedicaljournal.com/content/76/5/299.full.