American veterans continue to experience a higher rate of unemployment year-to-year than non-veterans since World War II, according to Bureau of Labor statistics. Younger veterans in particular have encountered even more difficulties finding jobs. In 2010, veterans between ages 20 to 24 had a 20.6% unemployment rate, compared to 12.3% for the general population.
These individuals desperately want to continue serving our country, but are unsure how to contribute to society when the career path they had planned on through the military is no longer an option.
Eric Greitens, Navy SEAL and Rhodes scholar, works with returning veterans to find a new career and life path. When he asks injured veterans what they want to do once they recover, every one responds the same: I want to return to my unit.
Unfortunately, due to serious injuries many soldiers cannot realistically rejoin their team, and they need to find a new direction. When Greitens asks what they would do other than returning to the military, every one wants to pursue a life of service.
As the Founder and CEO of The Mission Continues, Greitens and his peers challenge returning post-9/11 veterans to continue to serve others and their country in new ways.
These returning veterans “must make a decision to change their course a couple of degrees and find a way to come back home and make a purposeful life as a citizen leader again,” explained Greitens during his Veteran's Day keynote Sunday at the annual conference of International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.
Speaking to benefits and HR professionals in San Diego, Calif., he shared success stories of returning veterans who now teach martial arts to at-risk children or train service animals to help other injured veterans. Other wounded and disabled veterans participating in the nonprofit’s fellowship and mentorship program assist organizations like the Red Cross and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
“In addition to hearing ‘thank you,’ there was something else [returning veterans] had to hear: ‘We still need you,’” added Greitens. “They had to know that when they came home, we saw them not as problems, but as assets … that we believed in them enough that we’re still willing to challenge them.”
One returning soldier, who had lost the majority of her hearing from an explosive, explained that the discouragement she felt after returning stemmed not from the hearing loss, but from the loss of her team. After working with The Mission Continues, this Army veteran went back to school and works as a pediatric nurse in her local community.
Greitens believes returning veterans struggle against a new “front line” away from the battleground where they will feel pain and fear as they face new challenges. He works with these veterans, many suffering from severe physical injuries, brain damage, and/or PTSD, to overcome their frustration and suffering just as they did throughout their military training.
“With that wisdom, courage and strength, all of them got to a place where they changed who they were and they changed the way they could be of service to people around them,” Greitens said. He tells veterans that “this will be hard and challenging and you don't have to do this alone—you have a community with you and a country that is behind you.”
He encourages veterans to consider their new challenges as well as see who their allies are for accomplishing their goals.
In the same mind that the Navy SEALS move through progressive “evolutions” to push their strength and build courage, by voluntarily deciding to move through suffering and knowing they will be stronger on the other side, veterans evolve their character past its limits.
During SEAL training, trainees realize they will not become a SEAL in the next hour, week or month, but be being willing to build toward an arduous goal every day, they will reach a point where they have changed who they are and how they serve others.
“I have seen bravery on the battlefield,” Greitens explained, “but the kind of courage it takes to change who you are and change the way you can be of service to others around you does not happen in one dramatic moment … instead, it’s the courage of perseverance.”
While he delivered his keynote, veterans from The Mission Continues program lead over 1,000 volunteers to provide rapid response to families displaced by recent storms in New York and New Jersey.
“We have an incredible generation of veterans. I have learned from them that we all have an untapped propensity for courage,” Greitens said. “If we’re willing to challenge ourselves, it’s amazing to see the kind of change we can make in our own lives, but most importantly, the kind of service that we can provide and the kind of hope that we can create in the lives of others.”
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