First Person: Job Market Is a Tough Sell for U.S. Women Veterans

Female military personnel return to civilian life rich with marketable skills, but too few are buying.

New Directions women’s house, a long-term transitional program for female veterans dealing with issues of homelessness, trauma and addiction, in Los Angeles, California

A poster is displayed at New Directions women’s house, a long-term transitional program for female veterans dealing with issues of homelessness, trauma and addiction, in Los Angeles, California. A 2011 Los Angeles homeless count included a 51 percent increase in the number of female veterans living on the streets. (Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

Sara Benincasa is a blogger, comedian, and author of 'Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom.'

When Mandie left the Navy and applied for civilian jobs, she always got one of three responses: “You’re too versatile, you’re overqualified, or you don’t have enough experience.”

Mandie has critical experience as an aviation electrician, information assurance officer, HAZMAT coordinator, deputy government purchase cardholder, supply specialist and mail clerk, among other things. She’d traveled widely and spent years learning many skills that she believed could easily transfer to any number of jobs back home in the States.

“You’d think this type of versatility would give me an edge coming back into the civilian world,” she tells TakePart. But she was wrong. Her job hunt proved fruitless.

Mandie’s story has a silver lining. She decided to use her GI Bill benefits and will obtain her bachelor’s degree this year, at age 27.

But Mandie’s unemployment story is hardly unique.

In a January 2013 survey of more than 4,000 veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) found that 16 percent were unemployed. Among these unemployed newer vets, 33.8 percent had gone without a job for more than a year, while 17 percent had been without a job for more than two years. And last year, IAVA did a study with Prudential, finding that “just 66 percent of new veterans received employment resources during their transition.”

Rachel, 31, a Navy veteran, tells TakePart, “I feel that my job experience in the military isn’t considered as legitimate experience.”

While women veterans and male veterans face many of the same challenges, there are some issues that are unique to the female vet. As the women’s veterans group Grace After Fire puts it, “women veterans are the core of the family unit.”

Even in dual-income households, women often largely shoulder the responsibility for child-rearing, eldercare and general domestic upkeep. Add to that the fact that women in the United States still make significantly less money than men, and you’ve got a recipe for a tough situation on and off the job.   

Another newer veteran, Alondra, tells TakePart a story rather similar to Mandie’s. At 28, Alondra is a mother and college student with several years’ military service in human resources on her resume. Yet, when she got out of the Army as a sergeant, she encountered little interest from potential employers—even in HR, her field of expertise.

“Many told me I was not qualified for the job even though I did human resources for eight years,” Alondra says. This rejection came on top of what she calls “a hard time adjusting” to civilian life. She did score a job, but had to move soon afterward and simply couldn’t find employment in her new town.

Like Mandie, she chose to use her GI Bill benefits and attend college, where she is studying for her masters in business administration.

One problem veterans face is the inability of potential employers to see military service as a benefit in the corporate world.

Tom Tarantino, policy associate with IAVA, recently wrote, “Today’s business leaders don’t understand the value that veterans bring to the table. This is one of the first generations of business leaders that largely didn’t serve in the military, which poses real cultural barriers to understanding military skills and experience.”

Tarantino points to a 2012 report by the Center for a New American Security that backs up his assertion. 

Rachel, 31, a Navy veteran, would surely agree with Tarantino and the CNAS report. She tells TakePart, “I feel that my job experience in the military isn’t considered as legitimate experience.”

Rachel joined the Navy with the hope of finding a better life and a good career. She wanted to escape what she calls a “black hole” of a town in the Southwest. “No matter how many times you leave, you always get sucked back,” she tells TakePart.

She adds, “I also wanted to be a mechanic at the time and that was the best way to get training.”

After about nine years of service, Rachel tried to reenter the civilian workforce. That was in July 2011. It’s been a struggle ever since.

Rachel tells TakePart, “I haven’t heard back about any of the resumes I’ve submitted.”

Like Alondra and Mandie, she chose to use her GI Bill benefits. She’s finishing up her bachelors degree in organizational management. Hopefully, it’ll give her an advantage over other job candidates—the advantage she once thought a career in the military would bring.

Are today’s military veterans getting a rougher homecoming than veterans of generations past? Say why or why not in COMMENTS.

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