More than 1.7 million veterans from all branches of the military call the Lone Star State home, and every year, 22,000 to 28,000 military service members choose to return to or remain in Texas when transitioning from military service to civilian life.
While changing careers can be overwhelming for anyone, it’s especially disruptive for veterans who are making the transition to civilian employment, which typically doesn’t resemble the highly structured culture that permeates all facets of military life.
Furthermore, the decisions vets must make after separating from active service — finding a home and a job, attending school or starting a business — can create a sort of crisis of choice for veterans. Too many life options can spur feelings of bewilderment and anxiety.
According to a March 5, 2021 report (PDF) by the Texas Workforce Investment Council, Texas had the second-largest veteran population among states in 2019. Veterans accounted for nearly 7 percent of the state’s adult population, although that share has been declining for decades (Exhibit 1).
Source: Texas Workforce Investment Council
In 2019, Texas veterans had an average age of 50, versus the statewide median of 35. They were more educated than their civilian counterparts; nearly a third of state veterans held a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 27.7 percent of their nonveteran counterparts (Exhibit 2).
|Less than high school graduate||4.6%||16.0%|
|High school graduate (includes equivalency)||23.1%||26.7%|
|Some college or associate degree||40.4%||29.7%|
|Bachelor’s degree or higher||32.0%||27.7%|
|Civilian population age 18 years and over||1,509,835||20,091,315|
Source: Texas Workforce Commission
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) reports that (PDF) unemployment rates for Texas veterans from June 2018 to June 2020 were consistently lower than those for nonveterans, with the exception of Gulf War II-era veterans, those who served in the conflict that began in 2003 and resulted in the overthrow of the Iraqi regime (Exhibit 3).
|Group||Unemployment Rate June 2018||Unemployment Rate June 2019||Unemployment Rate June 2020|
|Gulf War I-Era Veterans (1990-1991)||2.5%||2.3%||3.4%|
|Gulf War II-Era Veterans (2003-2010)||4.0%||3.5%||5.7%|
Source: Texas Workforce Commission
TWC notes a contrast between the share of unemployed Gulf War I-era veterans (those serving in 1990 and 1991) versus Gulf War II veterans. The agency says the difference is likely the result of the former having more time to work and gain experience in civilian life than the latter.
With their extensive training, technical skills, leadership qualities and “soft skills” such as time management, strong work ethic, team orientation and self-confidence, as well as their military benefits, one might assume that newly minted veterans find it easy to resume their lives as civilians. But many veterans find that rejoining the civilian world presents unique challenges.
Those views are reflected in the 2019 Post-Separation Transition Assistance Program Assessment conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which found that more than 50 percent of participating veterans said the process of returning to civilian life was more challenging than they expected.
In December 2019, the VA launched the VA Solid Start program, which establishes early and consistent contact with recently separated veterans. VA Solid Start follows veterans with one-on-one interactions at three key stages (90, 180 and 365 days after separation) during their first year of transition to civilian life. The program is open to all veterans regardless of service branch, service history or discharge status, and it is designed to increase their awareness of available VA benefits and services.
Another VA initiative to reintegrate military members and their families into civilian life is the Transition Assistance Program (TAP), which provides information, resources and tools to service members and their dependents to prepare for the changes ahead. Service members can join the process one year before separation or two years before retirement.
And, as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the VA is making preparations to launch the $386 million Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP). Eligible veterans participating in VRRAP can receive up to 12 months of tuition and fees for GI Bill-approved educational and training programs, excluding bachelor’s and graduate degrees, as well as a monthly housing allowance based on post-9/11 GI Bill rates.
Covered education programs must provide training for a high-demand occupation (PDF), as determined by the VA in partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor. Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC)-approved training programs, which include various information technology specialties, are eligible.
In addition to VA programs, other state and federal entities offer their own services and opportunities for Texas veterans.
The Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) provides services for veterans in a variety of areas including compensation claims, health care, employment, education, entrepreneurship, mental health and programs for women veterans. TVC also awards grants through its Fund for Veterans Assistance to organizations that support and provide services directly to veterans — and can move swiftly to help these organizations with funding for emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2021 winter storm (Exhibit 4).
|57 GENERAL ASSISTANCE GRANTS||$13,320,000|
|24 HOUSING 4 TEXAS HEROES GRANTS||$6,100,000|
|27 VETERAN MENTAL HEALTH GRANTS||$5,875,000|
|19 VETERAN TREATMENT COURT GRANTS||$4,305,000|
|SIX VETERAN COUNTY SERVICE OFFICER GRANTS||$1,175,000|
|TOTAL GRANTS AWARDED||133|
|TOTAL GRANT FUNDING AWARDED||$30,775,000|
Source: Texas Veterans Commission
TVC Director of Veterans Employment Services Jim Martin says his department provides individualized career services to veterans facing barriers to employment by helping them hone their job-search skills and creating relationships with employers to increase veteran hiring.
“I believe one of the biggest hurdles our veterans face when they come out of the military is understanding they are not in the military anymore — it’s a different world,” Martin says. As a Vietnam-era veteran, he understands the mental and emotional rollercoaster veterans can experience as they enter their post-service lives.
Martin says his staff works with veterans to create marketable resumes that will stand out with civilian employers. Six-page resumes filled with military terms become one- or two-page resumes written in clear, concise language that works well with keyword-based, online applicant tracking systems.
As part of TVC’s employer outreach program, TVC and TWC have worked together to provide employment and support services throughout the state to veteran job seekers and their dependents. The agencies have created a list of private employers in Texas that have policies for veteran employment preference.
“Employers are starting to realize that transitioning military people have a lot of things to offer,” Martin says.
According to Martin, the 2015 passage of Texas’ Military Veterans’ Full Employment Act benefited our veterans by challenging all Texas government agencies to make veterans 20 percent of their workforces. Texas also has developed the Texas Veterans Portal at veterans.portal.texas.gov to provide veterans and their spouses with information on benefits and services.
“Texas is very much in the lead in pushing the employment of veterans,” says Martin. “And employers want what veterans have to offer — their discipline, adaptability and work ethic.”
For veterans who want to go into business for themselves, the Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) in the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is the liaison with the veteran business community, providing policy analysis and reporting and serving as navigators for veteran entrepreneurs. Its mission is to empower veterans, transitioning service members (including National Guard and Reserve members) and military spouses with services and tools needed to enter and grow in the world of small business.
SBA’s Boots to Business (B2B) and Boots to Business Reboot (B2BR) are entrepreneurial seminars offered to transitioning military personnel and veterans, respectively. During the pandemic, the SBA offered these courses virtually, giving military personnel and veterans the opportunity to participate from anywhere in the world. Texas also is home to two Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOCs) — one in Edinburg and the other in Arlington — which offer business advisers who specialize in assisting veterans interested in starting or growing a small business.
“One of the things we found very surprising during the pandemic was you would think people will be more apprehensive about starting a business, but the VBOCs reported we had more people interested in starting a business than ever,” says SBA’s OVBD Director of Policy and Engagement Stan J. Kurtz.
“But what wasn’t surprising to us was veterans’ ability to pivot — because when you’re in the military, you always have a plan, a backup plan, a backup plan to the backup plan,” he says. “Flexibility and adaptability are the keys to success, so they’re used to that. B2B, B2BR and the VBOCs all teach you how to build that into your business plan. And I think veterans are very good at being persistent. They’re used to rapid change.”
“Our services are open to the entire military family,” says Texas A&M University – San Antonio’s (TAMU-SA) Executive Director for Military Affairs and Strategic Initiatives Richard Delgado Jr. “We call them our military-connected students, and then use the term Military Embracing™ to further emphasize that we as an institution are committed to [providing] comprehensive support for our military students.”
The Patriots’ Casa on the main TAMU-SA campus serves as a hub for veterans, military personnel and their families enrolled at the university. The dedicated space is important as one in six students at the university, which has an enrollment of more than 6,700, are veterans, active military personnel or dependents. Support in academic, life and career skills is provided to help prepare students for success after graduation. The Casa houses a computer lab, an event space, a gallery and a healing garden.
“We want the Patriots’ Casa to be the hallmark of who we are as a campus,” Delgado says. “It’s important for our military, veterans and families to know they’re very much wanted, very much needed and very much loved. I use those three words together because at times, when we’re at our weakest moment, we need reassurance from somebody that we can continue to forge forward. And to me, those sentiments summarize everything you need to know in the moments you are at your weakest.” FN