Labor, Defense Join to Help Veterans Work
JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:
More than 200,000 men and women retired from the US military last year, many with high hopes for life in the civilian work force. Veterans often find it hard to adapt, but Julie Rose of member station KCPW reports the federal government is trying to help.
JULIE ROSE reporting:
Thirty-year-old Staff Sergeant Rob Rios(ph) has spent most of his adult life in the US Air Force. He's usually good under pressure, but the thought of finding a civilian job when he retires in a few months has him squirming.
Staff Sergeant ROB RIOS (US Air Force): I've been doing this job eight and a half years, one of those jobs where you can't get fired; you'll always get a paycheck. And that's a security of being in the military that I'm not going to have as a civilian.
ROSE: Rios is stationed at Hill Air Force Base at Ogden, Utah. After a five-month tour fighting in Fallujah last summer, he decided it was time to get out of the military. But he's now beginning to realize the transition to civilian life, especially finding that first job, could be tricky, starting with the simple task of explaining his military skills in plain English.
Staff Sgt. RIOS: I can say I've bed down a 5,200-person tent city, and it can't really equate in civilian terms to explain what I do.
ROSE: Since Rios has his heart set on an accounting job, he'll definitely need a different way to sell his skills, and that's where the Transition Assistance Program, or TAP, class comes in. It's a three-day, job-hunting boot camp for the soon-to-retire military. They write resumes, practice job interviews and learn about their veterans benefits.
Unidentified Woman #1: Currently full-time single veteran pays almost $1,200 a month under this program.
ROSE: Most major military installations offer TAP classes for transitioning vets. The program's funded by the Department of Defense, administered by the Department of Labor and generally staffed by instructors like Steve Hadley from the Department of Workforce Services. He claims the program's success rate is stellar.
Mr. STEVE HADLEY (Instructor): If they come to the class, the tend to find a job within the first 90 days of separation, whereas if they don't come to the class, it's normally six months to a year.
ROSE: The key, says Hadley, is to show vets how they stand out from the competition. They're disciplined, they showed up to work on time, and Hadley says they have one very unique advantage.
Mr. HADLEY: A great selling point right now, since 9/11, is that all our vets have security clearance.
ROSE: Hadley says that clearance can cost $5,000 and take up to two years to secure, so having it in the bag is a big draw for some industries seeking new workers, especially defense contractors. Many employers even come to the TAP class to network with and recruit veterans. Mike Morris of defense contractor Lear Siegler Services says the program's a gold mine.
Mr. MIKE MORRIS (Lear Siegler Services): Most veterans, I think, will have all the documentation of the training and qualifications that they had during the military. So that makes it very easy to know what they're qualified to do.
ROSE: Hadley says defense contractors can be an excellent stepping stone for transitioning veterans. Working on a base, their jargon-laden resumes and experience need little translation. And after a year or two they've had enough civilian exposure to make that next step much easier.
After three days in the class, Chief Master Sergeant Rob Teel(ph) is feeling much better about his post-military prospects.
Chief Msgt. ROB TEEL: It's taken away a lot of the fear, anxiety. They've shown me that the civilian world needs us because of our skills and our abilities, and we're disciplined.
ROSE: But there's one thing he still dreads. Leaving the military can sometimes amount to a 50 percent pay cut when you factor in benefits.
Chief Msgt. TEEL: Huge pay cut, very--that worries me more than getting a job, making sure that I can still suffice for my family.
ROSE: Otherwise, though, Teel and Rios both say they're ready to take the leap, armed with tips from the Transition Assistance Program and eager to give civilian life a go. For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose.