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As I attended the Transition Assistance Program (TAPs), I was worried about life as a civilian. I was projected to retire in 2021 as a master sergeant after nearly 24 years in the Air Force. I’d lived all around the world, held three Air Force specialty careers, oversaw the supervision of numerous airmen, and counseled many more on substance use. I’d had more than my fair share of challenges throughout my career, but I wouldn’t have changed a single moment of my military career.

Now it was time to leave the military, and I was terrified. I would now have to market myself to find a job, negotiate my salary and find a place to live that was within said salary, since I would no longer receive separate housing assistance.

My military career had consisted of hard work, but the truth is, it also provided a tremendous amount of stability. I never worried about whether I would get paid or if I would lose my job. I had moved nine times, from California to South Korea, without ever having to move myself. It was now that I would officially have to deal with the “real world” for the first time in 24 years.

Because of my experience and passion for clinical substance use treatment, I was happy to land the perfect opportunity as a veteran case manager at American Addiction Centers. This environment allowed me to work every day with brave men and women who had sacrificed so much to defend our country, many of whom had struggled with the transition to civilian life and had turned to controlled substances to cope.

One of the biggest challenges veterans face that is not spoken about is finding a civilian job. For a variety of reasons, employers can be hesitant to hire veterans. Age discrimination is one issue; most career military vets looking for civilian roles can be anywhere from 38 to 50 years old. Employers are also sometimes concerned about hiring a military member because they do not know what they are dealing with internally and whether they would be a good fit for their organization. Often, employers will pass on vets because they assume they are broken, when in fact they are far from it.

Military veterans have tremendous capabilities and qualities that make them extremely valuable employees and it is time we celebrate those unique skill sets that make for great candidates in other careers, including:

—Leadership skills. Many retirees have commanded entire squadrons of diverse individuals, executing strategy and building trust with their teams when lives were on the line. This translates extremely well to civilian management positions where leaders must rally their teams together and delegate tasks. We’re often very Type A personalities with strong planning and organization skills, attention to detail and thoroughness, and most importantly, we take pride in our work.

—Teamwork. Being in the military is all about cooperation, collaboration and working toward a common cause. Whether it’s defeating the enemy, building a bridge, or working together to complete a project, veterans know how to work well with others. And we are accustomed to working in diverse environments with individuals of all genders, races, socioeconomic statuses and personalities.

—Adaptability and performance under pressure. Especially for vets who have seen combat, the situation is often extremely volatile, and we’ve learned to be agile and find solutions, sometimes with very minimal resources. This makes us well suited for any fast-paced, dynamic work environment, given we’re accustomed to working under pressure.

—Dependability, discipline and work ethic. In the military, being late or lazy is not an option, especially when your teammates’ lives depend on you doing your job. As employees, veterans show up every day, on time, ready to work hard and we don’t call in sick without good reason.

While vets do make outstanding employees, they also may need a bit of grace as they transition from military to civilian life. Many are like me: they don’t know how to market themselves. I’d never written a resume because I never needed one. I had no idea how to interview, how to discuss a salary, how much my skills were worth or how they’d translate to the civilian market.

Some may be moving from a position of leadership to more of a worker bee role, and some will be fine with that and even enjoy a break from being under pressure. Others may have difficulty adjusting to not being in charge. As with any new hire, it’s important to set clear expectations about their role and responsibilities within the organization. Many vets are looking for an employer whose work gives them a sense of purpose, something they feel passionate about and puts them in a position to serve their community. We’re very mission-driven, so organizations that align with those ideals are a perfect fit.

And, yes, some may be dealing with some mental health or substance use issues as a side effect of their service. But if they are proactively getting help or seeking treatment, hiring a vet will be a great investment for any organization.

Kimberly Orange is a veterans case manager at American Addiction Centers.

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