By Andrew Tilghman
An Air Force B-2 Spirit pilot can fly across oceans carrying nuclear payloads, but he will need to apply for a civilian pilot's license before he can get a job shuttling businessmen from New York to Washington, D.C.
A Navy corpsman can treat mortally wounded Marines on the battlefield, but he would need a new certification to be a civilian paramedic in California.
An Army motor transport operator can drive a 5-ton truck through the mountains of Afghanistan, but he will need a state-issued commercial driver's license before he can make a living as a truck driver back home.
Now an influential Pentagon advisory group wants to close the gap between military careers and civilian credentials. The Defense Business Board is recommending that the military fast-track a new initiative that would provide troops with civilian licensing and credentialing at the same time they obtain their military training.
It's an effort to reduce unemployment, which has been higher for veterans than for their civilian counterparts for most of the past several years. Veterans who have served since 2001 suffered an unemployment rate of 12.1 percent in 2011, compared with an overall U.S. unemployment rate of 8.3 percent, according to a government report released in March.
The Defense Department spent more than $900 million on unemployment payments to veterans who have recently separated and are unable to find work, roughly double the amount paid out in 2007, according to data provided by the Defense Business Board.
About 200,000 troops separate and transition into the civilian job market each year. In some cases, troops have to wait and remain unemployed for months until they can obtain the credentials needed to put their military training to work in the civilian economy, according to a report from the board.
Specifically, the board said the Pentagon should create a forcewide credentialing program similar to the Navy program known as Credentialing Opportunities Online, or COOL. That program helps sailors identify the types of civilian credentials they might need to find jobs using their skills and training outside the military.
In many cases, military training requirements exceed those for civilian credentialing, so no major changes in military education are required, the board said.
Changes could include persuading some government agencies to automatically grant civilian credentials based on existing military training, or requiring service members to take the civilian tests for credentials as one component of their military training.
An expanded credentialing program has widespread support on Capitol Hill and from many top defense officials. It marks a major cultural shift for the military, which once held the view that making it easier for troops to get out would reduce retention and hurt the military.