The Disconnect between Society and Our Veterans
It has been a familiar lament of soldiers throughout time that once the war is finished then society would rather forget about them. In many cases, they come home ill or injured, broken in body or spirit and the adjustment to a ‘normal’ civvy life outside of their military family is challenging.
In Canada, as of late, there have been a few feeble attempts in regards to lessening the pain incurred by a releasing member. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has tried to mitigate the shock of the transition process with their Second Career Assistance Network (SCAN) program. During your duty hours, a service member can attend seminars and receive counselling on resume writing, interviewing, and where to search for jobs. The website du jour that gets pushed is LinkedIn, which in it’s time was probably more professional but has turned into just a more civil cousin of Facebook. The CAF’s efforts are better than nothing but is little more than kind of pointing you in the right direction. Remember, military personnel get moved so often that those personnel contacts that are so important when looking for work are typically absent. So in many cases, the member has to keep scanning electronic job boards ad nausea and fire off applications in the blind. All the legwork after release is upon the member who is dumped out with a few meagre tools in their job hunting toolbox.
Once a member has been released, they come under the auspices of Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC). At least VAC is listed as an agency to visit upon release so personnel can actually learn something about them and what they can offer for transition services. If you are undergoing a medical release with a pension attached, they’ll help administer getting the monies to you plus other services. If you’re somewhat able bodied, VAC is not much use to you. About all they can provide is up to a lifetime $1000 credit towards career service expenses such as professional resume writing or counselling. It will take some red tape and three to six months to be reimbursed but a few dollars to help with a polished resume is better than nothing. But unless you are really broken, you will not be talking to VAC again until you are looking at being put in a home.
The Government of Canada (GOC) tries to play a part in easing the process of military transition. They allow former military members to compete for internal advertised positions for up to two years after release. It is mostly a waste of time as there is already a handpicked nominee in mind when these advertisements go out. Either that or the process is so geared towards a specific person with a specific set of skills, that a service member doesn’t have a chance unless there is someone coaching them on what HR is looking for. The external GOC positions are also available and most say ‘Eligible veterans and CAF members may apply‘ but all that might get you is the fact that they will at least look at your resume. The entire process to be hired for a GOC job usually takes between 12 to 18 months. Again the positions are looking for specific civilian skill sets that most members would not have and many positions are just for an anticipatory hiring pool where no one may ever be hired. Plus, the HR process is out of touch between linking prospective job seekers with jobs they would be suited to. During the tests and interviews, there is no mention or askance of any skills that would actually be beneficial to the job in question. To illustrate this in an example, HMC Dockyard Halifax needs Sail loft/ Marine Survival Technician Apprentices to work at the Boat Shed. This job is tailor made for ex-RCN bosuns as that was their job onboard ship. But the written test administered was geared towards an officer worker as was the standardized interview. There was not even a question about, ‘Are you good working with your hands?’ The only useful thing about the GOC hiring process is it keeps a bunch of HR people on long term employment as it is next to useless for veterans.
Outside of GOC services there are a few organizations which try to help struggling veterans in transition. Canada Company, a non-profit started in 2006, has been linking up veterans and their spouses with industry through their Military Employment Transition program. Their site proclaims that they have had 2100 hires (in separate emails, they say 3000) since inception. Considering in the close to 12 years they have been around, about 60,000 Regular Force and 25,000 Reserve Force personnel have left the service, that was a re-hire rate of about 3.5%. Not a great track record but again better than nothing. The GOC must have gotten tired of their success rate or wanted to hire more civil servants because Canada Company is being shut down in favour of a contracted service, Agilec. This new GOC contract will just end up being a means to keep the HR company employed while being able to point to something to say, ‘Hey look! We’re taking care of those Vets!’ At least the old outfit was private and non-profit costing the taxpayer nothing. It also attempted to bridge the gap between military skill sets and the standardized civilian skills HR departments look for when they are screening applicants.
This is a huge challenge for ex-military members. There is no section on the computerized job application forms where you can translate all of the innumerable skills and courses that you have picked up over a military career. For example, how do you convey the concept of being in charge of the security of a ship and her company in foreign port where not only you are authorized to use deadly force but are able to order others to do so at your direction. Civilians are unable to comprehend the enormous amounts of responsibility placed upon even the most junior of members. Hence, the gravitas associated with military service will typically be glossed over or ignored.
A few Canadian companies proclaim to be ‘Veteran’ friendly and actually ask for self-identification during the initial application process. Typically, it is just a few ex-military folks who made it out in the civvy world and are trying to pay it back to their former comrades. The Old Boys and Girls club does try to look out for one another where and when they can. Networking will always be the best avenue to find the good jobs.
There are also a few contracted agencies or school programs here and there that will attempt to help a veteran with skills upgrades or to link them with prospective employers. Helmets to Hardhats will offer heavy equipment or construction courses at a discount and will help veterans hook up with employers. Prospect Human Services attempts to link up veterans with those elusive employers. But the problem with all these outfits that want to be helpful is the poor translation of former military abilities and skills to something a civilian employer can understand. In fact, the Prospect recruiters want you to dumb down your military career as it is too intimidating and your resume will be tossed. It seems redundant and demoralizing to go back to school for courses or to start at an entry level position to ‘fit’ civilian job specifications when the member already has years of similar experience.
This is why it is so difficult to find meaningful employment for a member who was in uniform for the mid to long term. The job hunting process is degrading enough especially to someone who had proudly served their country. Being in uniform means sacrifice, time away from family, multiple moves, and sometimes a cost to your body and mind. Finding a job after release is hard enough but to be told that all that military effort and training was for naught, well that is disappointing to say the least.
It is encouraging that there are plenty of good intentions on the part of the government and other Canadians. They just fall short when it comes to concrete results. Veterans are prone to higher incidences of mental and physical issues by default. They do not want handouts but they would like a hand up. Their unique sacrifices in the service of their country demand better results than the current status quo. This is why veterans are taking the GOC to Supreme Court over things like disability pensions and sexual misconduct and gender discrimination. It is why a group of veterans are camping on Parliament hill to raise awareness of the lack of progress in PTSD treatment programs. Veterans get a little irked when PM Trudeau comes out with gems like ‘You’re asking for more than the government can give.’ especially when he seems more concerned with re-integrating returning ISIS fighters. The Liberals have already argued in court that Canada has no ‘duty of care‘ to its veterans. If the PM doesn’t get it about veteran’s issues than how will the average Canadian understand what they are up against? A couple minutes of remembrance in November does not make up for the rest of the year that a veteran is suffering.
In the end, it only seems like it will be veterans looking after other veterans whether they meet at the Legion, the Clubhouse, or through other veteran run organizations. The military becomes your family and family is who you can really count on.
Blair is a personification of a ‘Jack of All Trades and Master of None’. He has held several careers and has all the T-shirts. Time to add the title Blogger to the list.