How Chicago area organizations help veterans navigate challenges in the job market upon return home

Mark Rivera Image
Friday, November 10, 2023
Veterans navigate challenges in job market upon return home
It can be a momentous transition for veterans from active duty to civilian life, and they face challenges, especially in the job market.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- It can be a momentous transition for veterans from active duty to civilian life, and they face challenges, especially in the job market.

Justin Miller and Karen Hernandez can both attest to the complete cultural adjustment that is coming home from active service in the military.

"You're coming home as a hero and people are cheering for you at the Fourth of July parade and then the next thing you know you're sitting in an apartment all by yourself," Miller said.

"Really, you don't understand the magnitude of the transition until you're really there and you're like 'Oh wow,'" said Hernandez.

Hernandez is the executive director of nonprofit Chicago Veterans, and just got back from an active duty deployment to Iraq in June. Miller heads development for the organization and served two tours in Iraq. He returned home in 2011.

"Hard skills that we don't have, they're easy for us to pick up because we're very adaptable. But it's hard for us to get that chance with somebody that doesn't understand who we are," Miller said.

Both U.S. Army veterans said they're working to make it easier for service members coming home to transition to civilian life and careers by connecting them to the veteran community and supportive companies.

"Giving them the resources and the tools that we have now so they don't have to fight basically to find those," said Hernandez.

According to the latest national data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022 overall unemployment among veterans was at 2.8%. But among white veterans it was only 2.5% while Black, Asian and Latino veterans had higher unemployment rates at 3.9%, 3.7% and 3.3% respectively.

"We have the same benefits, but it doesn't mean that everybody has access to them. Which is one of the reasons I started the Black Vetrepreneur network, because I noticed a lot of Black veterans were highly disconnected from the veteran community," said Treazure Owens.

Owens, who is an Army veteran, transitioned to full time civilian life earlier this year and works to highlight Black veteran-owned businesses.

"I don't know if we can change those rates immediately, but it's a start," she said.

Veterans like Amy Adebiyi said they've found success when connected with local resources.

"It gives me purposed compared to when I didn't know what to do," said Adebiyi, who transitioned from the Army to a career in IT.

Adebiyi said she connected with her IT training program through National Able Network, funded in part by the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership.

"They offered me a contract and from the contact I got a full time position and I'm still there," she said.

Chicago area resources for veterans transitioning to civilian life

Chicago Veterans

Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership

National Able Network