Every Veterans Day we honor the bravery and sacrifices our armed forces make for our country, but we often forget the support our service members need to transition into civilian life.
This phenomenon has been well-documented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and by academics like the Pew Research Center. The sheer number of transition assistance programs available to veterans is overwhelming, and navigating them can be daunting and bureaucratic (as evidenced by the VA’s 190-page benefits guide). Yet, meaningful and effective transition programs are still severely lacking.
Even the Government Accountability Office has argued in several reports spanning from 2014 to 2022 that despite costing the government $14.95 billion dollars this year alone, existing transition programs have no evidence of their effectiveness.
After wearing a military uniform for the past 16 years, I took mine off for the last time a few weeks ago. My uniform was a part of me and removing it felt like I was losing a piece of my identity; not just as a member of the military, but as someone who was connected to a high-performing team, working together towards a common mission.
But I am lucky. I found work at New Politics as the Director of Talent, to help veterans who want to continue serving their country and their community through politics. New Politics is a bipartisan organization with a hands-on approach to coaching and advising veterans become political leaders. Whether someone leaves the military as a young enlistee or a seasoned general, most veterans I speak to share a similar story about struggling during their transition to civilian life.
Veterans who have dedicated their lives to serving our country are exactly the proven leaders we need and want to be in politics today. These men and women gather real-world leadership skills at early stages of their professional careers, specifically learning how to focus on solutions, lead diverse teams, and most importantly, serve something larger than themselves.
Veterans face three primary types of challenges in transitioning from the military to politics: what we call informational, financial, and “inner” barriers to entry. By nature of their service, veterans have remained apolitical throughout their military careers; they haven’t been spending years working on campaigns, building relationships with political power players, or cultivating donor networks. The reality is that there are a lot of training programs out there which can teach future politicians the academic underpinnings of running for office, but — similar to veterans transition assistance programs — few who do it in a nuanced or thoughtful way.
While every veteran experiences challenges in their transition to civilian life, each person’s particular experience and set of challenges is unique. Rather than providing cookiecutter training programs or shallow resume workshops, New Politics invests meaningful time and energy into all of the transitioning veterans that we work with. We are with our candidates all the way through, from their earliest brainstorming phase all the way through election day and beyond. By acting as an honest partner, we better help these servant leaders navigate the often intimidating political ecosystem. Instead of molding our candidates into the party line status quo, we embrace veterans’ identity as servant leaders and help them stay authentic to who they are during their campaign. Lastly, New Politics is the only training program which focuses everything around the very real human challenges of running for office; asking a family to again sacrifice time with their loved one on behalf of a greater cause, returning to a hometown they left at 18 years old to fight in wars halfway around the world, or overcoming a fear of asking friends and family to donate to their campaign, to name a few.
We accomplish this through candidate mentoring and strategic advising, which includes providing communication assistance, curating field and political strategy, navigating campaign fundraising, and facilitating team-building support.
The key to New Politics’ success is understanding that career transitions, especially those like leaving the military or getting involved in politics, can be a counterintuitive and scary place. We have worked with thousands of veterans through our training programs, and we have successfully helped hundreds of veterans enter public office.
Our daily motivation is understanding that more veterans need support transitioning into civilian life. Major life changes are intimidating and often stressful, and our armed forces deserve meaningful resources. Whether or not a veteran decides to choose a career path in politics, there needs to be more effective programs for veterans after service.
Alberto Ramos is a graduate of the US Naval Academy at Annapolis and a former submarine warfare officer who currently serves as Director of Talent Development at New Politics, a bipartisan organization that recruits, develops, and elects servant leaders who put community and country first.