Translating Military Experience Into Civilian Jobs, One Vet at a Time


Corey Freeman works for the Oregon Employment Department (OED) as a Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program specialist, more commonly known as a DVOP (usually pronounced, “dee-vop.”)

But what he actually does, for the most part, is translation.

“As I say, they ‘need to learn to speak English again,’” Freeman says of the recently discharged veteran job seekers with whom he often works. “That’s one of the main things we help with.”

There is a special language unique to most branches of the armed forces, and it does not always translate neatly to the civilian world. Freeman, himself a former combat engineer with the U.S. Army and Oregon National Guard, understands this.

“Everyone who served in the military has certain transferable skills, but they don’t always know how to put it in a way employers understand,” he said. “For example, I’ll ask someone, ‘What did you do in the military?’ and he’ll say, ‘I shot people.’ Well, you can’t put that on a resume unless you’re applying for a job in the Mafia.”

On the other hand, the skills that virtually all veterans can put on a resume, include: experience working with a diverse population, the ability to complete tasks on a tight deadline and in a stressful environment, and experience communicating with all levels of an organization.

These skills alone, if properly presented to a prospective employer, usually set an otherwise inexperienced veteran above any civilian applicant with similar education and experience.

It’s not only the job seekers who often have to change their frames of reference. Freeman educates employers, too.

“You hear about these 21, 22-year-olds who go into a job interview and say they were in charge of a $150 million piece of equipment and 18 people, and the guy says, ‘No way. That’s impossible. You’re only 20 years old,’” Freeman said. “And yet, that’s exactly what happened.”

Freeman and the state’s other DVOPs provide intensive services on an individualized basis. It may include work on their resume or interview skills, career guidance and counseling, and referrals to other agencies if the client is in need of other services (like food, shelter or health care).

“DVOP” is fun to say, but perhaps the main reason the acronym is so commonly used is because the full name can be misleading. A veteran does not actually need to be disabled to use the services of a Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program specialist.

The veteran must face some barrier to employment, but there are at least a dozen that qualify, only one of which is a service-connected disability (VA rated 30 percent or higher). These include being homeless or at risk for homelessness, having a criminal background, or even being a VA-certified caregiver of a combat veteran.

Or, you could simply be young. Any veteran age 18 to 24 can qualify.

“A lot of times, people don’t think of that as a barrier to employment, but for several years, that age group was almost double the unemployment rate,” Freeman said. “Also, at that age, they’ve usually never had a civilian job outside the military, and that’s another challenge.”

Freeman said his work — and that of the OED’s network of 20-plus other DVOPs stationed throughout the state — is important, not only because of what it provides to the clients, but the state as a whole. The structure a stable job provides can sometimes be the linchpin for a veteran who might struggle with addiction, homelessness, criminal behavior or otherwise be in need of public assistance.

And the impact on the individual can be transformative.

“You wouldn’t believe what it does to a veteran’s confidence and sense of self-worth, when they come in and say, ‘I just got a job. I can take care of myself,’” he said. “It’s really incredible to see.”

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The Communications Office of Governor Kate Brown.

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