Preparing to Enter the Work Force After a Severe Injury

If you won’t be returning to military service, you’ve probably thought about how you’ll support yourself when you leave the hospital. You may have a lot of questions and concerns. What kind of work can you do, given your disability? Will the skills you learned in the military help you get a civilian job? What help is available for retraining and job placement? The information in this article can help answer these questions.

Where to find help

You’ll find career planning tools and job listings online, but in addition to using those, consider getting personal help with your job hunting or career planning. Professionals are ready and waiting to help you transition out of the military and guide you through the many available options, benefits and services. They can also tailor solutions to your unique skills and situation.

  • Recovery and Employment Assistance Lifelines – This joint project of the U.S. Department of Labor, the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center provides career counseling. A REALifelines career coach will meet with you at the hospital to discuss career options, answer questions, link you to One Stop Career Center assistance in your hometown and help you come up with a plan to lead to a career.
  • One-Stop Career Center system – One-Stop Career Centers are located throughout the country to provide a range of career services. If you already know where you’ll live when you leave the hospital, call the One-Stop Career Center in that city at 877-872-5627, or visit the Service Locator and type in the ZIP code or city and state. When you call the One-Stop Career Center, introduce yourself as a recently disabled veteran and ask to speak with a work force specialist who can give you one-on-one help and tell you about job opportunities in the local area. Remember, as a veteran, you will receive priority service at all One-Stop Career Service Centers around the country.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs – The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service provides a variety of services including job training, certificate programs and help finding employment.
  • Job Accommodations Network – JAN is a free service of the Office of Disability Employment Policy and the U.S. Department of Labor. Consultants there will suggest ways an employer can accommodate your disability on the job. Call 800-526-7234, or look up your disability on its website to learn what accommodations are available.
  • Veteran Service Organization – Many of these service organizations offer employment-related services for disabled veterans. They include the American Legion, Blinded Veterans Association, Disabled American Veterans, National Amputation Foundation, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Contact your area’s local post or chapter and ask how they can help you.
  • Your branch transition assistance program – The Army Wounded Warrior Program (AW2); Marine Wounded Warrior Regiment; Navy Safe Harbor; and Air Force Wounded Warrior Program (AFW2) are available to severely injured service members in those branches.

What to think about

Your Department of Labor career coach or local One-Stop Career Center veteran employment specialist are good resources as you move to a nonmilitary career. Your coach will help you figure out the best career for you, and what training and education you need to pursue it. He or she will help you with job accommodations, taking advantage of the benefits available to you, preparing a resume, polishing your interview skills and finding a job. But in the end, the decision about what you will do for the rest of your life is yours alone.

Here are some questions to ask yourself. Your answers will guide you to make the best decision possible:

  • If you could do anything, what would you do? It’s a difficult question to answer, but one that will give you a starting point to begin thinking about a career that will challenge and reward you for many years.
  • What did you do before entering the military? Did you enjoy that line of work? Are you still able to do it?
  • What do you view as the barriers to your success? Is it your disability? Your education? Your skills? Identifying the things that you feel may hold you back will allow you to focus on overcoming them. There are education and training programs available to you.
  • What was your job in the military? Your coach will help you figure out how your knowledge, skills and experience as a service member could translate to a civilian career.
  • Which of your job skills would you like to continue to use? Maybe you were in the food services, but your injury prevents you from lifting heavy objects or standing for long periods. Can workplace accommodations be made for you? Is specialized equipment available to help? Can you go into another field and use some of the skills you already have?
  • Where will you live? Will you be returning to your hometown? To another part of the country where you’ll be close to medical treatment? There are jobs available throughout the country and One-Stop Career Centers can help you locally.

When you start thinking about your career after the military, remember that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. The nature of your injuries, where you live, and your skills, interests and experiences will guide your decision. An experienced job coach will steer you toward the training, education and other benefits available to you as a disabled veteran and assure that you take advantage of every opportunity available to you as you prepare for your post-military career.