'Hero To Zero' Syndrome: Is This Why Veterans Struggle To Get Jobs?

jobs veterans psychologist

Though the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high for Americans generally, data suggest that veterans as a group are having an easier time finding jobs. The unemployment rate among veterans of all ages fell to 6.9 percent in July from 8.6 percent during the same month a year ago, the Labor Department reported in August.

The significant drop in the jobless rate doesn't mean, however, that veterans are finding it easy to transition into civilian jobs. For many, other barriers exists, including adjusting to life in a civilian world that bears little resemblance to regimented existence they became accustomed to.

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Sydney Savion understands the psychological roadblocks veterans face. She's a 20-year veteran of the Air Force, who served in both the enlisted and officer ranks. She's witnessed many senior and junior officers, as well as enlisted personnel, leave the military and struggle to find a place as a civilian.

Their challenges included not only adjusting to a new culture and finding jobs with similar stature or privilege, but basic things such as getting used to being called by their first names, rather than "colonel" or "general." Many experience what is known as "Hero to Zero" syndrome. The phrase refers to top performers who suddenly find they're no longer the prized employees they once were because of a sudden change in management or corporate structure. For veterans, the phenomenon manifests after they leave the military and find that in the private workforce, their status is suddenly diminished.

Sydney Savion Camouflage to Pinstripes

With those challenges in mind, Savion has written a book -- "Camouflage to Pinstripes: Learning to Thrive in Civilian Culture" -- about how military members can successfully return to civilian life.

AOL Jobs recently spoke with Savion (pictured), who holds a doctorate in education from George Washington and works as a human-resource consultant, to get her insights in recognizing the psychological barriers confronting veterans and tips for overcoming them.

Q. The book's title, "Camouflage to Pinstripes," may suggest to some that the it's geared toward professionals (those who wear suits to work), but it's written for all former service members, right?

A. Actually, the title is more of an allegory. It's more than just changing clothes. It's the psychological struggle that the individual faces as they take that journey from the military culture to civilian culture. It's not necessarily about jobs, per se. I do talk about marketability and how to prepare ... so the book really is practical advice on how to be successful upon returning to civilian society.

Q. One piece of advice you offer is "to be deliberate about surrendering the past." What do you mean?

A. Many who have spent time in the military have attached their identity and self worth to their rank, position and status in the military. So once they're removed from that context, many experience a very sudden, psychological descent into obscurity. I describe that as a rise and fall of one's ego, which is known as "Hero to Zero" mentality. So people can easily get stuck by resisting to change the way the see themselves and their outlook on life. It's vital for people to be intentional about shedding their attachments to the past way of thinking, doing and being, and discover new ways that are more meaningful and purposeful. Oftentimes what I witness is people struggling with finding something equal to or more glorious than the life they lived in the military.

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Q. Most members of the military enter the service when they are teenagers. What role does that play when deciding to return to civilian life four, 10 or 20 years later?

A. There's a transformation of your identity in the military. When I enlisted and went into basic training, I was told essentially, "We're going to strip you down and rebuild you." In civilian society, in essence, it's every man for himself. But in the military it's: "I have to know that you have my back and you know that I have your back, and that's how we operate. And if one fails, we both fail." That's the transformation that needs to occur, where you're not just thinking about yourself. That's what builds that esprit de corps that many in the military experience.

Q. You mention in the book that it's common for retiring service members to move into jobs with the federal government, either as an employee or contract worker. How widespread is that practice and what are the reasons for it?

A. I don't have any metrics, just my own observation of retiring officers and enlisted people who got out and just assumed a role that they were doing before, but now as a civilian. Why? Because it's a very easy transition. Even though you're not wearing a uniform anymore, you're still operating in the same environment with the same people and the same organizations.

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Q. Are the challenges facing current Iraq and Afghanistan veterans different from those of past conflicts?

A. I don't think the set of challenges are that much different. The unemployment rate for veterans has dropped significantly. The thing that's different is that during the Vietnam War, for example, they really didn't have a name for what they're describing today as post-traumatic stress disorder. I think now, putting a description to it, and having more knowledge about what is happening to some soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are being diagnosed with having PTSD, we're better able to address it.

Q. Do you think the president's effort to enlist employers to commit to hiring veterans has helped reduce the unemployment rate among veterans?

A. I think it certainly helps. It encourages an employer -- whether it's tax credits or some other incentive that they are given -- to actually hire veterans. I think it contributes to that low unemployment rate; I don't think it's wholly that, but certainly a contributor. Another significant contributor to this outcome is nonprofit organizations dedicated to educating and helping unemployed and employed veterans successfully reintegrate into mainstream society.

Q. Your experience suggests that the challenge for many veterans isn't necessarily finding the job, but keeping a job. Can you explain?

A. Employers often understand why veterans make good employees, but not what it takes to keep them employed and how to fully leverage their talents. I think most employers would say that one of the reasons they would hire veterans is not because of the tax credits but because they have great management skills; they understand diversity; they understand accountability and responsibility; they're strong leaders; and they understand how to converse with people. So they have the capacity to be very strong leaders in any corporation.





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David Schepp

Staff Writer

David Schepp has spent more than a dozen years covering business news for the electronic and print media, including Dow Jones Newswires, BBC News, Gannett Co., and most recently at AOL's DailyFinance. Nearly 10 years ago, he started writing a weekly People@Work column, looking in depth at issues facing workers in today's workplace. The syndicated column appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide before it made its debut on DailyFinance in 2010. Schepp now continues that tradition at Aol Jobs, covering the jobs beat and providing readers insight and analysis into the nation's challenging employment scene.

Schepp holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from Metropolitan State College of Denver.

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Jerome

The USA should be ashamed of the way they treat veterans in general, and the out-and-out lies the government puts out. I served on active duty in the Navy aboard an aircraft carrier from November 1979 to November 1983. In January 1983 I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and of course could not continue my naval career. I was honorably discharged in November 1983, and as of January 1, 2013 (exactly 30 years to the day), the VA still claims that my cancer was NOT SERVICE CONNECTED!!! How they come to this conclusion is beyond me, because as far as I know I didn't know you could joint the military as a cancer patient. In addition, all these "job" programs for veterans is also a bunch of BS. I have 2 college degrees and over 20+ years experience, yet not one of these so-called "veteran friendly" companies will hire me, and in fact they don't even bother to respond at all! The United States Government should take a long look at the way it has treated people throughout its history; Indians, blacks, and veterans--hmm seems to be a pattern here. If a person/organization does not plan on honoring its agreements and commitments, then why bother putting them in place in the first place?!

January 07 2013 at 9:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
livinglovinglaughing

I found some of the keys in Dr. Sydney Savion's book, "Camouflage to Pinstripes" to be very uplifting. I wish this book was around when I was making my transition from the military to the real world. After reading a few lines I decided the book would be a great reference for life transition as well. We are always changing. Life has many moving pieces and a book like this gives great insight on managing and conquering these difficult times. There were many key points that really resonated with me, but this was one of my favorites; "Life transition must occur to attain self-renewal. It is essential that you embrace change, be intentional about reshaping your identity, cultivate awareness and recognize that self-renewal begins from the inside out. Ultimately, the journey is for you to arrive at a place in your life in which you have disconnected from the old life situation and connected comfortably to the new." By no means does this compare to you all, but I remember being a leader of my squadron in bootcamp and tech school, having straight A's, dominating in the physical department amongst over 50 women and being requested to sing the National Anthem for numerous promotion and retirement ceremonies. When it came time for me to go back into the civilian community I felt lost without the structure and camaraderie of the military. Dr. Savion makes a great point in this particular key. Self-renewal is so important during this transition. Instead of looking outward for exceptance I should have gone inward and opened my mind and heart to the changes that were to come. I was filled with resistance to the unknown. "Reshaping my identity" was tough. It's safe to say it took me years to find out who I was in the civilian work force. I believe there is more to a job than just getting one. I think being in transition is an opportunity to really decide what you want in life...what you want to be when you grow up so to speak and then developing a road map for your journey. This book has so many more gems in it. It really helps us realize that our success begins within ourselves.

September 25 2012 at 7:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
livinglovinglaughing

I found some of the keys in Dr. Sydney Savion's book, "Camouflage to Pinstripes" to be very uplifting. I wish this book was around when I was making my transition from the military to the real world. After reading a few lines I decided the book would be a great reference for life transition as well. We are always changing. Life has many moving pieces and a book like this gives great insight on managing and conquering these difficult times. There were many key points that really resonated with me, but this was one of my favorites; "Life transition must occur to attain self-renewal. It is essential that you embrace change, be intentional about reshaping your identity, cultivate awareness and recognize that self-renewal begins from the inside out. Ultimately, the journey is for you to arrive at a place in your life in which you have disconnected from the old life situation and connected comfortably to the new." By no means does this compare to you all, but I remember being a leader of my squadron in bootcamp and tech school, having straight A's, dominating in the physical department amongst over 50 women and being requested to sing the National Anthem for numerous promotion and retirement ceremonies. When it came time for me to go back into the civilian community I felt lost without the structure and camaraderie of the military. Dr. Savion makes a great point in this particular key. Self-renewal is so important during this transition. Instead of looking outward for exceptance I should have gone inward and opened my mind and heart to the changes that were to come. I was filled with resistance to the unknown. "Reshaping my identity" was tough. It's safe to say it took me years to find out who I was in the civilian work force. I believe there is more to a job than just getting one. I think being in transition is an opportunity to really decide what you want in life...what you want to be when you grow up so to speak and then developing a road map for your journey. This book has so many more gems in it. It really helps us realize that our success begins within ourselves.

September 25 2012 at 7:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
livinglovinglaughing

I found some of the keys in Dr. Sydney Savion's book, "Camouflage to Pinstripes" to be very uplifting. I wish this book was around when I was making my transition from the military to the real world. After reading a few lines I decided the book would be a great reference for life transition as well. We are always changing. Life has many moving pieces and a book like this gives great insight on managing and conquering these difficult times. There were many key points that really resonated with me, but this was one of my favorites; "Life transition must occur to attain self-renewal. It is essential that you embrace change, be intentional about reshaping your identity, cultivate awareness and recognize that self-renewal begins from the inside out. Ultimately, the journey is for you to arrive at a place in your life in which you have disconnected from the old life situation and connected comfortably to the new." By no means does this compare to you all, but I remember being a leader of my squadron in bootcamp and tech school, having straight A's, dominating in the physical department amongst over 50 women and being requested to sing the National Anthem for numerous promotion and retirement ceremonies. When it came time for me to go back into the civilian community I felt lost without the structure and camaraderie of the military. Dr. Savion makes a great point in this particular key. Self-renewal is so important during this transition. Instead of looking outward for exceptance I should have gone inward and opened my mind and heart to the changes that were to come. I was filled with resistance to the unknown. "Reshaping my identity" was tough. It's safe to say it took me years to find out who I was in the civilian work force. I believe there is more to a job than just getting one. I think being in transition is an opportunity to really decide what you want in life...what you want to be when you grow up so to speak and then developing a road map for your journey. This book has so many more gems in it. It really helps us realize that our success begins within ourselves.

September 25 2012 at 6:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
livinglovinglaughing

I found some of the keys in Dr. Sydney Savion's book, "Camouflage to Pinstripes" to be very uplifting. I wish this book was around when I was making my transition from the military to the real world. After reading a few lines I decided the book would be a great reference for life transition as well. We are always changing. Life has many moving pieces and a book like this gives great insight on managing and conquering these difficult times. There were many key points that really resonated with me, but this was one of my favorites; "Life transition must occur to attain self-renewal. It is essential that you embrace change, be intentional about reshaping your identity, cultivate awareness and recognize that self-renewal begins from the inside out. Ultimately, the journey is for you to arrive at a place in your life in which you have disconnected from the old life situation and connected comfortably to the new." By no means does this compare to you all, but I remember being a leader of my squadron in bootcamp and tech school, having straight A's, dominating in the physical department amongst over 50 women and being requested to sing the National Anthem for numerous promotion and retirement ceremonies. When it came time for me to go back into the civilian community I felt lost without the structure and camaraderie of the military. Dr. Savion makes a great point in this particular key. Self-renewal is so important during this transition. Instead of looking outward for exceptance I should have gone inward and opened my mind and heart to the changes that were to come. I was filled with resistance to the unknown. "Reshaping my identity" was tough. It's safe to say it took me years to find out who I was in the civilian work force. I believe there is more to a job than just getting one. I think being in transition is an opportunity to really decide what you want in life...what you want to be when you grow up so to speak and then developing a road map for your journey. This book has so many more gems in it. It really helps us realize that our success begins within ourselves.

September 25 2012 at 6:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
livinglovinglaughing

I found some of the keys in Dr. Sydney Savion's book, "Camouflage to Pinstripes" to be very uplifting. I wish this book was around when I was making my transition from the military to the real world. After reading a few lines I decided the book would be a great reference for life transition as well. We are always changing. Life has many moving pieces and a book like this gives great insight on managing and conquering these difficult times. There were many key points that really resonated with me, but this was one of my favorites; "Life transition must occur to attain self-renewal. It is essential that you embrace change, be intentional about reshaping your identity, cultivate awareness and recognize that self-renewal begins from the inside out. Ultimately, the journey is for you to arrive at a place in your life in which you have disconnected from the old life situation and connected comfortably to the new." By no means does this compare to you all, but I remember being a leader of my squadron in bootcamp and tech school, having straight A's, dominating in the physical department amongst over 50 women and being requested to sing the National Anthem for numerous promotion and retirement ceremonies. When it came time for me to go back into the civilian community I felt lost without the structure and camaraderie of the military. Dr. Savion makes a great point in this particular key. Self-renewal is so important during this transition. Instead of looking outward for exceptance I should have gone inward and opened my mind and heart to the changes that were to come. I was filled with resistance to the unknown. "Reshaping my identity" was tough. It's safe to say it took me years to find out who I was in the civilian work force. I believe there is more to a job than just getting one. I think being in transition is an opportunity to really decide what you want in life...what you want to be when you grow up so to speak and then developing a road map for your journey. This book has so many more gems in it. It really helps us realize that our success begins within ourselves.

September 25 2012 at 6:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Karen

I am glad to know there is a growing effort to hire veterans. I am a retired Army Nurse, and my first civilian job was in a civilian, private hospital. I was hired because of my military background, which fast tracked me to the charge nurse position from the start. I have moved to a few other jobs since then in healthcare, and my prospective employers never did feel a need to interview me once they ready my resume and saw the 20+ years of leadership, organization, critical thinking, and team work skills from my training and combat time. I also experienced what many of my fellow veterans are experiencing, and that is the transition from being high speed, low drag, to low speed, all drag. EVen though I was looked up to for my experience, once I came on board with the staff, I was treated badly because of managers who were intimidated by me, and I was pushed to the background. Unfortunately, it has not stopped, and what is worse is that I now work for the VA and my military experience means very little to nothing to my civilian supervisors. I still maintain my military bearing at all times, and my patients and I have a special bond due to our automatic reverting to our military rank structure and culture. THAT is what make my job worthwhile and the transition easier for me. For anyone who will be leaving the military with plans to work in the civilian, non-federal, world, make a point to know who, if any, of your future co-workers are also veterans and align yourself with them. Also, research the company in areas like understanding of the military culture and training background, motivation to hire veterans (genuine desire vs. mandates), any inside information from other veterans you may know who worked for the same company and are no longer there. A big problem faced here in CA is that we are right next to Mexico, and Mexican citizens (they are NOT immigrants, and they are not undocumented- they are ILLEGAL) are getting many jobs that could easily be done by a veteran. American companies are not obligated to hire non-citizens; they are obligated to make good on a promise to support those who defend this country from the dark forces. There are way too many homeless veterans out there, some as young as 20 years old, who cannot get a job because they got beat out of a job by someone less qualified but under affirmative action, they have poor access to mental health services to help their PTSD, which interferes with optimal functioning in the work place, and some have been trained in skills that do not easily cross over into the civilian world. EVen if the skill appears to be non-transferrable, the company should do their research and they will find that every skill in the military parallels a civilian skill in more ways than one. PLease give the veterans a fighting chance when they come home, or if they have been home from previous service.

September 23 2012 at 12:10 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
offisirrpg

OR the job market has gone to hell in a hand basket because the politicians in Washington are on the take. How so? An American company closes shop here and reopens in another country. They are rewarded by paying NO import taxes because their HQ is still in this country. Again a little of that extra swag ends up in Wahington. ALL the presidents and presidents men are responsible for this one. Get smart boys and girls your venting here is a joke. You, we, have to put the feet of the politicians to the fire till they do whats right for all Americans. Nough said.

September 22 2012 at 9:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
SeaboardStation

Its not a problem finding a job, its a problem finding a decent paying job with any kind of benefits. North Carolina employers are rated as scum by most job seekers. Plenty of construction jobs available on base in Fayetteville, home to Fort Bragg. Those Goverment jobs that OBAMA talks about all the time, well guess what, the General Contractors are making more money than they ever have. They are doing it with low wage pay and no benefits. If you don't believe me, check the job boards in NC. Thanks OBAMA, great job. Hows that change working for the unemployed or under employed. What sucks most for vets is the goverment is giving the employers tax breaks for hiring, but the vets can't survive on the low pay. They are getting screwed like everyone else and they see it, because they live it everyday.
Here lets bailout the crooks, but the people who work hardest and fight for our freedoms, screw them. The politicians have sucked the life blood out of this country. Time for some new CHANGE.

September 22 2012 at 2:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff

I appreciate the article - it helped me understand some of the things I experienced. I enlisted in the Air Force in 1974 and went back to college and was commissioned in the Army through ROTC when I graduated. After leaving the Army, the lines I got from potential employers was "Your experience in the military doesn't count for anything". I had been a battery commander and battalion operations officer, but no, that doesn't count for anything. So I took an entry-level job and took the things I learned in the military and made it happen anyway.
It's no wonder military people have a hard time sometimes relating to civilians.

September 22 2012 at 12:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jeff's comment
Karen

I agree, Jeff. I was working in civilian hospitals as a RN when I got out, but I could not relate to anyone around me. I now work in the VA where I can talk the way I know to patients and some of my co workers. Much better.

September 23 2012 at 12:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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