Adapting to a new culture in the civilian workforce can be daunting. One big hurdle is translating military skills to fit the needs of employers.
While the military offers programs to support service members readjust to civilian life and it’s expanded those supports in recent years, it’s not always enough. And that’s where other organizations step in. One of them is the nonprofit group Disabled American Veterans, or DAV.
The DAV was founded in 1920 to assist WWI veterans process benefit claims. In 2014, the DAV expanded and started a National Employment Program. It came at a time when post 9-11 veterans were struggling to find jobs, especially in the wake of the Great Recession.
“It’s a scary time coming off active duty, especially when you have a family to take care of,” says Ryan Burgos, a U.S. Army veteran himself, and now the director of national employment at DAV.
“We know we can go to DAV for our benefits assistance, but to have somebody on that other end of the screen who is also offering to connect you with employment opportunities or entrepreneurship opportunities, it just means the world.”
Searching for Meaningful Opportunities
One big part of DAV’s effort is its job fairs, which topped 100 this year, including more than a dozen virtual job fairs so DAV can broaden its reach. The job fairs are open to active duty military members, veterans and spouses, and members of the National Guard and Reserves.
The goal is to connect them with employers in person. There is also an online jobs board with opportunities at various levels along the career ladder.
Veterans can also get support from the DAV in building their resumes and highlighting things such as leadership skills that they’ve acquired during active duty.
Burgos says some 8,000 offers were made to veterans through DAV’s job programs which, he says, work to provide careers with purpose. “It’s not just a regular 9-to-5 to hold you over until you to get the next best thing. We like to say that it’s meaningful employment opportunities, somewhere that you can go and you can feel well-respected when you’re there. It’s somewhere you’re going to stay for a long period of time,” he explains.
There are many companies that are committed to hiring veterans and the DAV recognizes them through its Patriot Employer program. These employers receive a digital badge which can be placed on the company website.
“Veterans know who DAV is. They might not be familiar with a particular company, but if DAV is labeling them a ‘Patriot Employer’ they know it must be somewhere I can go to find quality meaningful employment opportunities,” explains Burgos.
Among some of the big names that have been recognized: Starbucks, Kimberly-Clark, Amazon, Raytheon Technologies and Duke Energy to name a few.
Boot Camps for Entrepreneurs
Not all job opportunities are geared toward working for someone else. The DAV also has a Patriot Boot Camp for veterans looking to become entrepreneurs, which is seen as another level of helping veterans find meaningful careers.
“This program is taking the next step. It’s teaching a veteran, going from helping them get a job to helping them become job creators and benefits providers,” says Dan Claire, chief communications and outreach officer at DAV and a U.S. Marine veteran.
“It’s designed to make entrepreneurship accessible, specifically to disabled veterans and spouses. It was founded entirely by civilians, and now it’s part of DAV’s ecosystem.”
That ecosystem became a key resource for Ali Ahmadi, who first came to DAV in 2008 when he left active duty in the U.S. Navy and needed help navigating the veterans disability benefits system for his service-related lung injuries.
After graduate school, Ahmadi spent time traveling the world as an international nuclear engineer. He decided to start his own business after he and his wife became caregivers to his mother-in-law and they experienced what he calls the “spaghetti mess of our health care system.”
Before launching the company, Ahmadi returned to DAV, and its Patriot Boot Camp, which he credits with getting the business off the ground by fine tuning his business strategies through networking with successful entrepreneurs. With that guidance, Ahmadi and two classmates co-founded TCARE, a platform that provides support for caregivers.
“(We) tailor support plans for each family’s unique needs, so that they don’t burn out and end up putting mom or dad in nursing homes or different facilities. Our whole company is based on helping families navigate – whether it’s elder care, senior care or, or taking care of kids with special needs.” explains Ahmadi, who serves as CEO.
He says DAV has a lot of “mentors that are volunteering their time to help with navigating different business models, go-to-market strategies, and also helping us establish early funding for our businesses. That three-day Patriot Boot Camp program gave me introductions into what ended up becoming the first venture capital investment check into TCARE,” Ahmadi adds.
When TCARE started in 2017, there were 14 employees and now there are close to 160. He says the increase is largely a result of the Covid pandemic raising awareness about the importance of taking care of loved ones at home instead of a facility. DAV is now a client, offering support programs through TCARE.
Veterans Have the ‘Power of Resiliency’
Roughly 2 million small businesses in the U.S. are owned by veterans. Combined, they employ about 5 million people.
For his part, Ahmadi is now a mentor to other veterans looking to entrepreneurship as their career path. He points out that veterans have key skills learned in the military they can translate into becoming successful business owners.
“One, you are taught to institutionally be extremely aware of attention to detail. The second part is you are institutionally trained to navigate yourself out of extremely difficult situations. and learn on the fly, make decisions on the fly, and navigate your way out of situations, which is exactly what the business world is,” explains Ahmadi. The third one, he stresses, is the power of resiliency.
“In the military, you don’t have the option of quitting. It’s either do or die. And that mentality carries over for veteran entrepreneurs – failure is not an option, no matter what obstacle is thrown at you or no matter how many punches you take in the face, you still get up the next morning and carry the mission.
“That’s really what entrepreneurship is. It’s a series of punches in the face and how you carry on after that is what makes or breaks different business leaders.”
Looking for a DAV job fair in your area, check out the 2023-2024 calendar here: