Bridging the Gap from Job to Career for U.S. Veterans

By Jennifer Phillips, Jennifer Braud, Lindsay Andrews, and Emily E. Bullock

Despite the heroic acts demonstrated by many of our nations U.S. war veterans, the enormity of life's tasks, such as career choice and housing, often overwhelms these individuals upon their return from their military service. Many of these veterans are still coping with the physical and mental scars left from their experiences at war. Homelessness in the veteran population is a significant problem because of rising housing costs, delayed receipt of veteran's benefits and financial compensation, and the task of translating military experience and employment gaps into typical civilian jobs. Career counseling is often an important part of the assimilation process yet most of these veterans present career counselors with multiple barriers to employment. Some of these barriers include:


  • Homelessness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse problems
  • Mental health problems such as anxiety disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, pathological gambling or sexual addiction
  • Physical disabilities are prevalent
  • Gaps in work history
  • Criminal records

Keys to Bridging the Gap
The career counselor plays a significant role in the rehabilitation process and should remain mindful of and incorporate interventions which address the barriers to employment this population faces. To guarantee the veterans' long-term success with sobriety, gainful employment, and overall improved quality of life, the counselor should keep in mind that the career counseling process does not end with the clients' initial placement. Rather, the counselor can continue to work with clients to transition from a job that meets basic needs to a job that satisfies their values, interests, and skills. In addition, a previously homeless veteran with resolving substance abuse issues may have evolving career, employment, and educational needs. The proper tools must be provided to the individual to ensure their ability to independently reach their career and employment goals.

When working with individuals who present such a complex case, it is easy to overlook other possible deterrents such as lack of motivation, negative attitude, little self-efficacy, and unconstructive career thoughts. Individuals may exhibit various attributions as a result of their difficult life experiences, which can be transformed into negative schema. These schema direct how an individual processes information, makes decisions, and solves problems which can become a barrier to employment (Sampson, et al., 2004). The impact of these dysfunctional thoughts can make career decision making an arduous process. With the reduction of dysfunctional career thinking individuals are better able to explore their career options and make decisions.

Providing Clarity to Difficult Cases
The first step in this complicated process is to form an individualized plan to focus on the needs, interests, and life circumstances of the individual involved. The individualized plan is a product of the collaboration between client and counselor which is utilized to help the individual obtain his or her goals. The use of the individualized plan is crucial, in that it helps bring order and a sense of accomplishment to a task that may seem overwhelmingly hopeless.

Interest inventories and career assessments, as well as identifying perceived barriers, external conflict, and what the individual hopes to attain from the job are important in this process. In preparation for initial job placement or in a continuing effort to strengthen job skills, counselors might implement the following CIP approach with clients with differing strengths. (For a more detailed description of the process see Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, and Lenz, 2004)

  • Covering Knowledge Domains
    • "Knowing about myself"
      • Implement career assessments to assess values, interests, personality
      • Assessment of work history to reveal areas of interest and skills
    • "Knowing about my options"
      • Internet sources available (Department of Defense Military Resume Writer, CareerOnestop's Military-to-Civilian Translator, ONET, various job search websites)
      • Job try-outs and shadowing especially in other roles at current place of employment
  • "Knowing how I make decisions"
    • CASVE model provides an explicit description of the decision making process. (Communication, Analysis, Synthesis, Valuing, and Execution are the steps within the process which create the CASVE model). This can walk the veteran through the initial phase of getting a job to meet basic needs and can continue to aid their decision making as they pursue more satisfying career options throughout their lives.
  • "Thinking about my decision making"
    • Identify and dispute negative thoughts through Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI; Sampson et al, 1996)
    • Negative self talk can contribute to dysfunctional career thoughts, reframe into positive self talk and awareness of patterns of negative self talk

When working with a population that has been out of work for some time and has multiple barriers to success, it is important that assistance in the process continue after the initial job is obtained. The Cognitive Information Processing Approach emphasizes the importance for homeless veterans to reflect on information about themselves in relation to possible options for employment. Finally, teaching the client how to think about and evaluate their decision making is crucial to guaranteeing the client's independence in making choices about their careers. The CIP approach is useful in assisting veterans in learning better problem solving and decision making skills that they can utilize throughout their lives to bridge the gap in their job and career pursuits.

"Give people a fish and they eat for a day, but teach them how to fish and they eat for a life time."


Sampson, J. P., Reardon, R. C., Peterson, G. W., & Lenz J. G. (2004). Career counseling & services: A cognitive information processing approach. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole-Thomson Learning.

Sampson, J. P., Jr., Peterson, G. W., Lenz, J. G., Reardon, R. C., & Saunders, D. E. (1996).

Career thoughts inventory. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc.



Jennifer Phillips is a counseling psychology master's student at The Universityof Southern Mississippi. She is also a graduate counselor at Career Services in the university's career center. She can be reached at jenkphil@yahoo.com

Jennifer Braud graduated from LouisianaStateUniversityin 2005 with a BS in Psychology. She is a Counseling Psychology doctoral student at The Universityof Southern Mississippi. She may be contacted by email: jbrau17@yahoo.com .

Lindsay Andrews is a doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program at The Universityof Southern Mississippi. She may be reached at Lindsay.Andrews@usm.edu .

Emily E. Bullock, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology at The Universityof Southern Mississippi. As a vocational psychologist, Dr. Bullock teaches career counseling courses and conducts vocational psychology research. She can be reached at Emily.Bullock@usm.edu .

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