How do your veterans choose their career or occupational pathway? Some of us adhere to what might be called the Drift Theory of Vocational Choice. For a variety of reasons, some people approach job searching with the idea that, “Any job is a good job,” without concern for whether the job will be satisfying or not. Others take a more analytical look at their career choices and make intentional decisions about employment based on their interests, aptitudes and skills.

Vocational interests are the likes and dislikes regarding different occupations or types of work. One job seeker may like working with people, while another may prefer to work with information or data over people. We all have our own preferences about work activities we enjoy or don’t. As military service members, we may have liked our jobs or grown to dislike them. Employment we enjoy contributes to our desire to learn more on the job and retain our positions, if not advance.  
Job dissatisfaction is more often about how much we like job activities instead of how much we earn. When drawn to certain types of jobs, it’s logical to think that other job seekers are drawn to the same types, because they share your job interests. Like-minded people are drawn to similar occupations.

When we talk about a good job match, it means that job tasks complement a person’s interests and coworkers share the same work passion. Studies show that people flourish in their work environment when there is a good fit between their personality traits and the likes and dislikes from previous experiences. Lack of congruence between personality and environment leads to dissatisfaction, unstable career paths, and lowered performanceNet Interest Profiler helpful to find out what their interests are and how those interests relate to the world of work. The Profiler uses Holland Codes to identify occupations that might be of interest to the test taker.
If a veteran, service member or dependent qualifies for or is already receiving VA education benefits, they may be interested in using CareerScope, an assessment tool that measures  interests and skill levels and helps an individual figure out their best career path.

Holland, John L. (1997). Making Vocational Choices, A theory of vocational personalities and work environments, (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL, US: Psychological Assessment Resources.
The First Step Act – A New Step in Helping Incarcerated Veterans

The nation’s veterans have sacrificed a great deal to ensure Americans’ safety and security. But what happens when a veteran gets entangled in the criminal justice system? Unfortunately, veterans are not immune to criminal activity, making up around 8% of all inmates. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 855 per 100,000 veterans commit a crime, compared to 965 out of 100,000 nonveterans. While they may have statistically lower incarceration rates than nonveterans, the fact that nearly 1 in 10 inmates in the prison system have served our country is disheartening—and a testament to the need for more services and resources for veterans.

The Department of Labor is rolling out new grant opportunities to help individuals transitioning from the criminal justice system, including veterans, find jobs. Originally passed by Congress in late 2018, the First Step Act is a measure aimed at helping former federal inmates find meaningful employment after exiting federal prison. The grants, totaled at just over $7 million, will be awarded to agencies that start rehabilitative services for formerly-incarcerated men and women exiting the federal justice system.

A panel of several experts from rehabilitation groups discussed the importance of inmate rehabilitation. The panel consisted of Jackie Davis of the Virginia Career Works Bay Consortium in Virginia, Kerri Pruitt of the Dannon Project in Alabama and South Carolina, Denise Robinson of the Alvis agency in Ohio, and Jon Ponder of Hope For Prisoners in Nevada.

The panelists all praised the act as a great step in looking at federal inmates not as criminals, but as people seeking to get a fresh start and contribute to their communities. The U.S. has high recidivism rates; many inmates cite an inability to get jobs and reintegrate into society as a major factor for why they become repeat offenders. For veterans, reintegrating into society after military service can be challenging. For veterans who have been incarcerated, the challenge can seem almost insurmountable.

Pruitt emphasized that most of her clients often suffer from mental illness, the most common being PTS—a struggle that is all too real for as much as 30% of the veteran population (statistics vary depending on service era). Many inmates often have undiagnosed mental health issues that go unnoticed during their conviction. Pruitt expressed that while reforming former inmates is an easy bipartisan issue, the stigma of mental health and the partisan nature of drug control often present challenges when helping individuals who struggle with substance use or mental illness.

This is the story of many veterans who have been through traumatic war experiences. For veterans in the prison system, compounding effects can lead to unrecognized, negative factors for reentry to society. The panelists all agreed that effective methods to help a person move past their incarceration include developing relationships, treating their clients like family, and encouraging them to view themselves as more than just a criminal record.

While the First Step Act is one of the first far-reaching federal programs to help inmates, there are plenty of public and private organizations that have partnered with mental health organizations, businesses, and coalitions to help former inmates transition back into society. Pruitt said she kickstarted a rehabilitation partnership with Stepping Up in Alabama to help formerly incarcerated individuals with mental illness and histories of substance use get help and find jobs. All the panelists remarked that partnering with as many organizations as possible is critical, especially when it comes to supporting the nation’s veterans.