Guest Perspective: Employment - Another Tool to Help Your Veteran Clients

Guest Perspective: Employment - Another Tool to Help Your Veteran Clients

Editor’s Note: As part of the Center for Deployment Psychology’s ongoing mission to provide high-quality education on military- and deployment-related psychology, we are proud to present our latest “Guest Perspective.” Every Tuesday, we will be presenting blogs by esteemed guests and subject matter experts from outside the CDP. This allows us to offer more insight and opinions on a variety of topics of interest to behavioral health providers.

As these blog entries are written by outside authors, one important disclaimer: all of the opinions and ideas expressed in them are strictly those of the author alone and should not be taken as those of the CDP, Uniformed University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), or the Department of Defense (DoD).

That being said, we’re very happy to offer a platform where we can feature these individuals and the information they have to share. We’d like to make this an ongoing dialogue. If you have questions, remarks, or would like more information on a topic, please feel free to leave comments below or on our Facebook page, and we’ll pass them along to the author.

By Nathan D. Ainspan, Ph.D.​
Guest Columnist

It should not surprise you to hear that employment is critical for good mental health and can even be part of the treatment for your clients who may have mental health issues. Even though you are not a career counselor, you can still have an enormous impact on your Veteran clients by helping them in their search for post-military employment. This blog will outline the mental health benefits of employment and explain why you should consider integrating the issue of employment into your repertoire of tools for helping your clients. It then suggests how you can help your Veteran clients with their search for employment and lists resources that you can use with them.

The Psychological Impact on Employment and Unemployment for Veterans

Anyone who has been out of work can speak to the negative effect that unemployment can have on the psyche. This effect is even more pronounced for Veterans because most members of the military tend to be mission or purpose-driven in their lives. Our military is made up of volunteers so this means that our Veterans self-selected themselves into the military culture, and many did this because they possessed a strong sense of mission or purpose. Once in uniform, this sense of purpose is intensified through the military’s culture and the training.

The positive connections between employment and mental health have been demonstrated by the research literature on positive psychology and learned helplessness. Under these theories employment has been shown to help individuals regain a feeling of mastery and the sense that they can cope with life’s demands. Instead of being isolated at home, a job provides a source of socialization that averts the feelings of social withdrawal. The major psychological assessment and treatment tools are now incorporating employment as one aspect of treatment: the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) includes employment in the treatment for PTSD (Criterion F) and for schizophrenia (B) while the World Health’s Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health (ICF) has done the same.

The negative psychological effects of unemployment on a Veteran can be intensified by friends or family members who do not understand what their Veteran is experiencing, think that the Veteran is wasting their time during the day, being picky by not accepting a particular offer, or do not understand why the Veteran is so depressed. In addition, the search for a civilian job can be particularly frustrating for a Veteran since, while in the military, one’s career usually progressed smoothly and through clearly-defined steps. This is not typically the case in the civilian world where progress often occurs erratically and usually because one networked for the new position. Further complicating the civilian job search process for Veterans is that in the military, the “hiring official” (i.e., the superior officer) shared the same background and language, while in the civilian world, the hiring official may not even understand the military terms and jargon on a resume. Also, many Veterans see the process of networking for a job (which is critical for finding employment in the civilian world) as a form of begging, an activity often viewed as beneath them.

In addition to negatively impacting the psychology of the individual, unemployment has been shown to adversely impact a Veteran’s family as well (e.g., through the financial cost to the family and depression impacting the lives of the other family members). Veteran unemployment and under-employment also hurts our nation financially and in its economic development.  

Instead of contributing their talents and military training to enhance the larger community, the unemployed Veteran is now collecting unemployment insurance (rather than paying taxes through their paychecks).

How You Can Help

As a clinician, you can provide assistance to help your Veteran clients find and maintain good jobs. Many Veterans and their family members might normally be reluctant to talk about their job search troubles, but if you have established a trusting relationship with them, you may be a great avenue for them to find out about this kind of information. Your client might mention employment concerns in passing, but this could provide you with an opening to explore the topic and offer suggestions. You can also use your time with your clients to probe concerns that they may have about getting a job, explore what motivates them, and then be able to offer suggestions and make recommendations for books, programs, or resources. You can then offer modifications and suggestions to overcome the obstacles that arise in any job search. You can help your clients honestly evaluate their interests, skills, temperament, and abilities and then help them realize how difficult it is to transition to a new environment such as the civilian working world. You can guide your clients on how to learn civilian communications skills. As an example, in the military one learns to offer brief responses that are direct and to-the-point. By contrast, most civilians expect some small talk and longer conversations. You may be able to help your clients become aware of the cultural differences between the military and civilian worlds and help them to learn how to better communicate in this new environment.

Tools and Resources Available to Help the Job Seeking Veteran

The following resources are available at no cost for our nation’s Veterans and Service members.  Consider referring your clients to these resources and encourage them to use them.  You may be able to overcome your client’s reluctance to use some of these tools by reminding them that these resources are provided by the government free of charge and to not use them would be like leaving part of their paycheck behind on the table.

  • Transition GPS Curriculum: The Department of Defense developed the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and the Transition GPS (Goals Plans Success) curriculum to provide training to all Service members as they leave the military. Three days of this curriculum is spent learning how to get a job. All members of the military and family members can access this curriculum at The website contains all of the content presented in the TAP as well as pages of references and links to important web sites. Remind your Veteran and Service member clients that they have access to this website and encourage them and their families to download and use the materials.                       
  • American Job Centers (AJCs): The AJCs are a network of 2,500 local centers across the nations that provide job-searching assistance free of charge. Every center has specialists dedicated to helping Veterans called LVERs (Local Veterans Employment Representatives) and DVOPS (Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialists) who are dedicated to helping Veterans (and are usually Veterans themselves). If your clients need some assistance with their job searching skills (e.g., developing a resume, learning how to network for a job, or looking for referrals to employers) look up the local center in your area (at and refer your client to the center.  Research has shown that these centers provide many services at no cost, which Veterans have paid hundreds of dollars to receive from private sector providers.
  • Veterans Employment Center (VEC): The VEC is a website run by the VA that provides tools to Veterans and their family members and connects them to employment and career development opportunities. The VEC consolidates several job assistance tool sites, bringing together job opportunities with technology to translate military skills into plain language and allow users to build an online profile that can be shared in real time with employers who have made a public commitment to hire Veterans. Some of the tools can help your clients build their civilian resumes, learn about organizations that are hiring, and post profiles that employers can search. Employers are also encouraged to utilize the tools in the system to help them find employees. The VEC is located at
  • Skills Tests:  If your clients do not know what they want to do in the civilian world you can suggest some tests that they can utilize to help them explore this question.  You can suggest that they look at the results from their Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) (the test that each Service member took to determine their career track) to see in which areas they excelled. They can also visit the local AJC to see about having the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the Strong Interest Inventory, or the Vocational Preference Inventory tests administered to them. 
  • Skills Converters:  To help your clients figure out where their military skills can be utilized in the civilian world, you can refer them to the Military Crosswalk located at . Your clients can enter their branch of Service and their career field (called their Military Occupational Classification or MOC) and the system will suggest the civilian career fields that are most comparable to their MOC. The Military Crosswalk also provides local median salaries for that field and employment trends (by state) as well as more information on how to find employment in each field. 
  • Essential Skills Translator: In addition to the technical skills that your clients gained through their MOC, they also gained many non-technical skills including decision-making, critical thinking, continuous learning, teamwork and team-building, interpersonal skills, oral and written communication, dependability, persistence, and working under stress. Because they were surrounded by other individuals that possess these skills while they were in the military, most Veterans are not aware that they have these skills or that they are valuable in the civilian world. Survey after survey of business leaders have shown that these skills are in high demand in the civilian workforce, but are rarely seen in most applicants. You can emphasize this to your clients and help them understand that they possess these skills and then help them translate them into civilian terms. The RAND Corporation conducted research and created tools that you and your clients can use to translate these skills. Reports that describe how these skills are developed in professional military training in the Army and Marine Corps are available on the RAND website. One version explains these skills for employers ( and another describes how Veterans can translate these skills ( A one-page summary for employers is located here: In 2016, RAND will continue to explore how these skills are developed through on-the-job experiences and will release materials at the end of the year that combine both professional military education and on-the-job experiences.
  • Federal Jobs: Veterans receive hiring preferences for open positions in the federal government. Remind your clients about this and encourage them to apply for federal jobs.  Information about these preferences and applying for federal jobs is at and all federal job openings are listed at or the VEC.
  • Active Job Searching and Networking: Most Veterans tend to use passive job searching techniques (such as applying to advertised positions or going to job fairs) rather than active job searching techniques such as networking, informational interviewing, or making contact with potential employers. This usually acts against the Veteran’s interest since job fairs or advertisements can generate large numbers of resumes which employers quickly review to reject any candidate whose background is slightly different from the majority. Since Veterans frequently possess backgrounds that are different from most people they have a more difficult time making the first cut under these passive job-searching techniques. By contrast, a Veteran who networks into a job will have a chance to explain their background and possibly have someone who knows them make an introduction. Since an application for an unannounced job may stand out as someone who has an interest in the employer and has displayed initiative, this will work in the Veteran’s favor. Inform your Veteran clients about the differences between the active and passive job searching techniques and the benefits of active job searching and networking. Work with them to teach them how to network to a job (there are many good books and resources online) and help them overcome any potential concerns that they might have around reaching out and networking for a job.
  • Salary Negotiations:  One final area where you may be able to help your Veteran clients is in salary negotiations. Since pay is closely linked to rank in the military, your Veteran client may never have had to negotiate for a salary before – and may not even be aware of the going market rate in jobs is your area. The idea of negotiating a salary may be foreign and stressful to most Veterans. Benefits, including retirement plans, health insurance, and even housing allowances and shopping privileges at on-base facilities were all included in their military compensation but now have to be considered separately in the new job. You can provide guidance, advice, and information to your clients. This is one area where the AJCs can provide ideas and support.

     I hope this advice and these resources will be helpful for your clients. I wish you and them the best of luck and thank you for your work supporting our Service members and Veterans.

Nathan D. Ainspan, Ph.D. is the Research Psychologist with the Transition to Veterans Program Office (TVPO) at the Department of Defense. He has conducted research, written, and spoken extensively about military transitions of military members to civilian life. His research has focused on improving civilian employment opportunities for returning service members and the psychosocial benefits that employment brings to wounded warriors and injured veterans. He has also authored and edited dozens of publications, including the books When the Warrior Returns: Making the Transition at Home,(Naval Institute Press, 2012) and Returning Wars’ Wounded, Injured, and Ill: A Handbook (Praeger, 2008). He is also a member of the editorial board of the journal Military Psychology. He is a Fellow of Division 18 (Psychologists in Public Service) and Division 19 (Military Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. He received his PhD in 1999 from Cornell University.