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Mission Transition: Creating Employment Opportunities for Post-9/11 Veterans and Military Families

June 23, 2015 by Colonel Miguel Howe, USA (Ret.)

This week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program and the George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative hosted Mission Transition, a national summit focused on creating employment opportunities for post-9/11 veterans and military families. During the summit, we will release a first of its kind roadmap designed to help returning members of our military overcome obstacles as they search for meaningful employment in the civilian workforce.

Since 9/11, more than 2.5 million Americans have worn the uniform, and over the next five years more than 1 million service members will transition out of the military and into civilian life. They have faced down our enemies, protected our country, and demonstrated the courage, resilience, and adaptability that are hallmarks of the American military. Our businesses and communities need their leadership, experience, and character, but the transition to civilian life and employment can bring new challenges.

The nature of all-volunteer military service during a time of extended conflict results in a civilian-military divide. 71% of Americans say they have little understanding of the issues facing post-9/11 veterans. And veterans agree: 84% say that the public has “little awareness” of the issues facing them and their families.

The impact that divide has on transition is significant. This enduring civilian-military divide adversely impacts national security, global competitiveness and our moral and social obligation to our veterans. Yet it also is seen in the difficulty that veterans and their families have in finding meaningful employment and enduring careers. And it is manifested in the difficulty businesses have in finding, hiring, and retaining veterans and military spouses in order to improve their businesses.

While each service member must be responsible for their own transition, and every warrior’s path home will look different, if they are committed to continuing to contribute to their communities and families the way they contributed to their country, then we owe it to them to offer our help.

Post-9/11 Veteran Employment Situation

A collective effort across federal agencies, private industry, and non-profit organizations, combined with strong support from the American people has brought national attention and resources to the issue.

Veteran Employment by the Numbers

Approximately one out of two (53%) of separating post-9/11 veterans will face a period of unemployment.

Average duration of unemployment is 28 weeks for post-9/11, and the average 22 weeks in Unemployment Compensation Data (UCX) usage.

The U.S. government made over $4.8 billion in UCX payments to veterans between 2009-2014.

On average over 200,000 military service members will transition to the civilian sector each year.

Veteran employment has been concentrated in business sectors with low projected growth.

This collective effort is paying off, and we see that in improved hiring and employment rates. A slow but steady economic recovery has also improved the job outlook for all veterans. As the overall unemployment rate dropped from 9.1% in 2009 to 6% in 2014, the overall veteran population unemployment dropped from 8.1 to 5.3%.

Post-9/11 veteran unemployment also fell from 10.2 % to 7.2%. Whereas veteran median income is below the non-veteran median income of $42,317, post-9/11 veterans attain 11% higher median earnings than non-veterans with similar demographic characteristics.

Once finally employed, post-9/11 veterans perform well and are compensated better than their non-veteran peers. A CEB study also confirmed that veterans are better for business than non-veterans, with higher retention rates and productivity ratios.

Post-9/11 veterans, however, have broadly experienced greater difficulty with securing and sustaining civilian employment than their non-veteran peers. While there has been significant progress in addressing veterans’ unemployment, the accompanying charts show challenges remain.

Now is an important moment to shift from a “crisis contingency response” (which has been impactful, but may not be sustainable) to a more deliberate, focused and sustained effort. We must also leverage the important lessons and best practices as we address the gaps that remain and focus our effort going forward.

Across the public, private, and non-profit sectors, leaders agree important lessons learned, remaining challenges and important next steps include:

  • A focus on retention of those who have been, and will be hired.
  • Development of skills and abilities for transitioning service members and veterans prior to hiring and after being hired.
  • Institutionalize coalitions and public-private-nonprofit partnerships, particularly earlier in the transition process.
  • Expand hiring efforts, practices and programs to downstream supply companies and into local communities.
  • Focus veteran hiring where there are human capital gaps, job growth and opportunity and business needs, particularly in the STEM field.
  • Businesses institutionalize mentality, culture, systems and leader/manager training for veteran hiring and retention.
  • Develop and share data and metrics for hiring, retention and performance. Use that data to inform veteran hiring efforts.
  • Focus veteran hiring efforts on enlisted, non-degree/certification holding, and under age of 35.
  • Sustain attention, resourcing and effort on this issue, and continue the narrative of veterans as business assets.

By focusing on these areas in the coming year, and beyond, we will enable a generation of resourceful, determined and experienced leaders for our businesses for generations to come.

The Veteran Employment Transition (VET) Roadmap

Veterans themselves play the most critical role in this process. A successful transition is an individual responsibility that requires understanding, planning, and deliberate execution – something familiar to everyone who has worn the uniform.

Veterans and Unemployment

The top predictors of post-9/11 veteran unemployment are: rank, age, education level (or certification) and geography.

Separating enlisted veterans make up the majority of the unemployed veterans in the U.S., and 90% of separating military will be enlisted.

71% of all unemployed post-9/11 vets are under the age of 35; they also have the highest unemployment among veterans at 11%, compared to 8% for the non-veteran population.

Veterans who lack a four year degree or training certification have more difficulty finding employment.

Almost 40% of all unemployed post-9/11 vets are in California, Florida, Texas, Georgia and Washington and Illinois.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to transition from military service to civilian life. While most veterans will successfully transition from the military into civilian career fields, the process takes time and hard work, and there are challenges for every transitioning service member.

Many are uncertain as to how to plan, what to do, where to go, and who to turn to for guidance on establishing a career path and finding meaningful civilian employment. This transition can be overwhelming as transitioning service members may experience gaps and overlaps in services available to them or confusion in navigating the multitude of on-line portals, tools, programs, job boards, veteran employment sites, and many philanthropic organizations in a “noisy” veteran employment landscape.

Service members also possess a wide array of skills, talents, experiences, and interests, and those factors, along with many others, play an important role in shaping their ultimate career destination. Yet the process for getting there – the “roadmap” for transitioning to a meaningful civilian career – is remarkably similar across rank, background, and level of experience.

The George W. Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative and the U.S. Chamber’s Hiring our Heroes program joined together with a host of government, private and non-profit sector partners to develop a Veteran Employment Transition (VET) Roadmap to provide transitioning service members and veterans a resource so that they are better equipped to navigate that landscape and join the civilian workforce.

 The VET Roadmap outlines the essential phases to assist a transitioning service member or veteran as he/she prepares for employment in the civilian sector, locates a potential employer, secures an offer for meaningful employment, and successfully transitions into the civilian workforce.

Challenges Facing Veterans

A communication and culture gap between veteran job seekers and employers.

Ability of both veterans and employers to match and translate military skills, qualifications, and experience to civilian job requirements.

Barriers stemming from credentialing and license requirement.

Lack of military service member preparedness for finding civilian employment.

Stigma related to mental health concerns and ongoing service commitments (National Guard & Reserve Component).

Financial instability and veteran acclimation to civilian life and workplace.

This tool is not intended to replace existing efforts, but to clarify the process, and aggregate the most effective resources at their disposal from across the public, private and non-profit sectors. How the VET Roadmap is applied depends on the individual service member or veteran, and each employment transition journey must be tailored to his or her unique needs, circumstances, goals, and objectives.


Our government, businesses and non-profits responded to a crisis of post-9/11 veteran employment. As transitioning service members and veterans use the VET Roadmap to guide their employment transition, now is a critical time to sustain our attention, effort and resourcing. And we must continue a national narrative of veterans as business and community assets.

We must also start institutionalizing those gains, shifting from a systemic model of acute care to an enduring model of sustained strategy, programs, resourcing, and partnerships. By doing so, we not only would meet our nation’s moral and social obligation to our veterans. We also would play a critical role in national security by helping to preserve the all-volunteer force. At the same time, we would fill critical needs in our businesses and economy.

Download the Veteran Employment Transition Roadmap


Colonel Miguel Howe, USA (Ret.)
Colonel Miguel Howe, USA (Ret.)

Colonel Miguel Howe, USA, Ret. is the inaugural April and Jay Graham Fellow of the Military Service Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. As an endowed Fellow, Colonel Howe represents the Bush Institute's work to improve the transition of post-9/11 veterans to civilian life, and to foster veteran leadership to enhance our businesses, communities and nation. In this role, he advocates for post 9-11 veterans and builds awareness for the issues that affect their transitions, with a focus on employment, education, and health and wellbeing.

Colonel Howe retired from the United States Army where he served for over 24 years in a myriad of command and staff assignments to include in Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom as the commander of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Advisory Group, Camp Morehead Afghanistan. He also deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as the Chief of Staff for the NATO Training Mission in Al Rustamiyah, Iraq. A Special Forces Officer, he has commanded special operations forces on numerous deployments throughout Latin America with the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Colonel Howe served as the Special Assistant to the CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and commanded the U.S. Army Southern California Recruiting Battalion. He began his Army career in the 25th Infantry Division as a Rifle Platoon Leader.

Colonel Howe was selected in 2006 by President George W. Bush to serve as a White House Fellow. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and earned a Master of Arts in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. He is married with two children.

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