Newberry column: Program helps veterans find footing as business owners
A 2019 survey found that nearly half of post-9/11 veterans experience some level of challenges readjusting to civilian life.
The adjustment can come as a shock to a lot of military personnel. One day you’re doing your job as a member of our country’s armed forces, the next you’re signing discharge papers and re-entering everyday civilian life.
I lived it myself. Joined the Army shortly after graduating from high school, completed eight years of service, including two tours of duty in Iraq, earning a Purple Heart along the way.
My plan was to stay enlisted until retirement. An injury cut those plans short and in seemingly no time at all I went from being a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army to being unemployed and left to figure out a new career path.
It’s a jarring change that is often exacerbated by factors including PTSD, not knowing how to apply skills learned in the military to “real-world” jobs, and a misunderstanding among the general public regarding military life and skill sets developed there. As a result, one is left with feelings of inadequacy and being an outsider.
A 2019 survey conducted by Pew Research Center found that nearly half of post-9/11 veterans experience some level of challenges readjusting to civilian life. Veterans who served in combat are significantly more likely to experience challenges, the survey found.
I had my own challenges, including bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts, until I found help through the Veterans Administration, which eventually put me on a path to launch my own physical fitness organization.
I’m now also co-director of the Veterans Business Outreach Center here in Wisconsin, which is operated in collaboration with the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corporation.
The Wisconsin VBOC provides business development services to active duty service members, including the Guard and Reserve, veterans and their family members. Services include programming on how to launch a business or grow an existing one, identifying funding sources, and providing assistance with veterans business certification.
Veterans of all ages interested in starting a business can utilize the VBOC, and for many it’s the first step toward finding meaningful work in the civilian world.
Particularly as the economy rebounds from pandemic-induced challenges, it will be entrepreneurs who lead the way in business development and job creation. Veterans with an entrepreneurial spirit definitely have a role to play on this front and have a great resource in the WWBIC/VBOC to help turn an idea into reality.
Dan Newberry is co-director of the Veterans Business Outreach Center serving Wisconsin and Minnesota. For more information about the program, visit wwbic.com/veterans .