For decades, service organizations, government entities and private citizens have worked together to provide a “leg up” for America’s veterans who often return from military service lacking the skills and support structure to be successful in civilian life.
In Compton, the Salvation Army has taken up task of assisting veterans with the training, direction and most of all encouragement to take on the often difficult tasks of returning to school, landing a job and, more often than not, securing adequate housing. These are some of the challenges facing the Salvation Army Haven Veterans Employment Program that offers help with writing a resume, practicing interview techniques, and even choosing appropriate attire to make the best impression on a prospective employer.
The Compton site operates a specific Salvation Army Community Integration and Employment Services program designed to provide committed participants with all of the resources necessary for a successful job search. In December, they received $30,000 in grants from Edison International to help veterans reintegrate into the community. The results have been positive, said Lisa Anderson, community integration manager for the Compton Salvation Army chapter. She and her team meet dozens of unemployed veterans each month, and they’re not satisfied until each is prepared for gainful employment. To accomplish this, they utilize “career coaches” not only there but in West LA and in Van Nuys in encouraging business professionals, counselors and social workers to share their expertise.
“The first thing we try to do is to make an assessment of our client’s needs,” Anderson explained. “We develop an specific employment plan for each individual. We include computer training, resume assistance and participate in mock interviews. These exercises are very important in bring out the best in the person. We want a prospective employer to see the whole person and what they can offer a company once hired.”
The program serves about 200 veterans each year. The majority of clients are employable, but there is a difficulty among homeless veterans in landing a job. Some of these men and women may suffer from substance abuse, a few have done jail time and still others may suffer from mental illness. Most of the clients have not worked in civilian life for many years, and many have literally forgotten how to search for a job.
“Housing is a big issue in providing service to our clients,” Anderson said. “Some (homeless) clients have no regular forwarding address, while others have transportation issues. We’ll work initially to find stable housing, then try to assist in arranging transportation to the office. We want to do whatever is necessary for the success of our clients and to point them toward steady employment.”
The employment rate for veterans remains a work in progress nationwide. The Salvation Army program tracks their clients’ employment success for at least a year after landing a job. So far, about 70 percent of participants are working in fields like construction, maintenance, healthcare, and in manufacturing. There is a contingent of “at risk” veterans whom Anderson explains may need more help in overcoming various issues (i.e. danger of becoming homeless), yet many of these individuals have participated in the program and are realizing success in their job search.
“We have received very positive responses from our clients as well as from the community as we continue to move veterans into employment,” Anderson said. Her group partners with the Compton EDD (Employment Development Department) WorkSource Center and receives half of its yearly funding—about $440,000—from the federal government. The remainder comes from donations from various foundations, including SoCal Edison which since 2012 has contributed more than $20 million to this and other philanthropic endeavors.
“It can be as simple has helping a non computer-savvy veteran set up their email account and learn to apply for jobs online,” Anderson explained. “Our objective is to help these men and women overcome obstacles to staying employed.”
There can be many obstacles facing American veterans. Last fall, more than 300 leaders from across the country convened at USC to suggest ways to improve the transition from military service to civilian life at the State of the American Veteran Conference. Because veterans are often unprepared for civilian life—and the communities that take them in are also unprepared to handle their multiple needs—the conference focused on the unique experiences facing different populations of veterans, including those with combat experience, those pursuing higher education, National Guard and Reserve members, and military families.
One track focused on women, who make up about 10 percent of the total veteran population and whose ranks will continue to grow over the years. Each year, about 200,000 veterans leave the military, of which many will encounter challenges transitioning to civilian like.
“We are among the fastest-growing segments of the veteran population,” said Kayla Williams, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs Center for Women Veterans. “Initiatives to serve veterans must focus on serving all of then, which includes women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and whose who range in age from under 20 years to over 100.”
Among the recommendations developed at the conference were educating the community on military culture and trauma, improving how veterans earn credit for college and career opportunities, expanding mental health services to former service members, providing access to affordable childcare, and actively involving families in the transition process.
In 2015, the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that there were 49,933 homeless veterans on a single night in the United States. What that number represents a significant decline (33 percent) since 2011, much work, according to Anderson, must be done to provide employment, educational opportunities and adequate housing for veterans.
“We want to help these men and women thrive once they’ve completed their military service to our nation,” Anderson added. “That’s the least we can do in helping these brave men and women return to civilian life and pursue their dreams.”