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Coming home after time spent in combat zones is undoubtedly a challenging process. After spending years with the military, soldiers have to make personal and professional adjustments, and each facet of the process presents a unique situation.
Its enough work to transition back into civilian life after spending time in a war zone or overseas, without the added pressure of looking for sustainable employment.
But for those veterans looking to break into politics and policy, the challenges can be even greater. While those familiar with the ways of Washington know that networking and the ability to sell oneself are essential to landing Hill jobs and moving up the Congressional staffer ladder, service members are less likely to be keyed into the scene.
Looking for work in a particularly unfriendly economy is difficult, but an increasing number of service members are coming home with psychological scars, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, in addition to physical wounds. Patricia Orsini, director of the Wounded Warrior Program under the Houses Chief Administrative Officer, said veterans often have to balance having a job with attending medical appointments, which can be a difficult task.
But efforts are being made by Orsini and other groups on the Hill, particularly by veterans who have already made the jump from the military to Washington, to help those service members who want to be here but are struggling to figure out how.
One Mans Story
Javier Martinez is a professional staff member for the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity and the chairman of the Congressional Military Service Members and Veterans Association. Hes been working in Washington for several years now, but said he found the process of getting from his hometown in Arizona to the halls of Congress to be a somewhat daunting task.
Martinez enlisted with the Army after graduating from high school in order to get money for college. After four years of active duty, he spent a year and half with the Army Reserve while a student at the University of Arizona before deciding to pursue his lifelong goal of working on the Hill. However, without the proper guidance, Martinez struggled to land that first position.
I found it a little bit frustrating in the application process, he admitted. Martinez had no real understanding of what different staff positions entailed, such as what a staff assistant or legislative director does.
He decided to go right to the source, purchasing a one-way ticket to Washington and crashing on a friends couch while he networked and sought guidance on how to reach his goal. And he quickly learned the highly prized art of spinning his experience to his and his prospective employers advantage. Soon after, he landed a position as staff assistant and junior legislative assistant to Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas).
The way that I tried to connect to that Congressmans office was that I speak Spanish, I understand the issues that are important to the Southwest, he said. Because Reyes was involved with the Armed Services Committee and chaired the Intelligence Committee, Martinez also played up his military expertise. They were able to see, Oh, he relates more to our community than, say, someone from Austin, Texas, who doesnt have that experience.