Protecting the freedoms of the American people is a tall order – one that involves untold commitment and sacrifice from those that serve in our military. So when they return home as veterans their communities have a responsibility to provide support, care and opportunity as they transition into civilian life. At the Santa Barbara Foundation, we are dedicated to raising awareness around important issues such as veterans’ needs, and supporting those organizations that serve our military heroes.
According to the most recent 2017 statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs, 21.6 million Americans have served in our armed forces out of a total population of 323.1 million with 11 million at or above retirement age. Locally, 22,270 vets reside in Santa Barbara County – the majority concentrated in South Santa Barbara County and near Vandenberg Air Force Base.
And while statistics show that the majority of Santa Barbara County’s older veterans tend to fare better financially than the national average, our younger vets tend to struggle with underemployment. Many take jobs for which they are overqualified and overeducated, meaning they are most likely underpaid given what they might otherwise be capable of earning. Underemployment may result from the need for many veterans to find immediate employment after service due to financial pressure, regardless of how well that employment may fit. The underemployment phenomenon may also be reinforced by public and private sector employment programs that seek to rapidly translate veterans’ skills and experiences to the private sector, placing veterans in jobs that resemble what they did in the military. The “skills translation” approach may contribute to underemployment because it undervalues skills and experiences not common in the civilian workforce, such as the intangible maturity and experience gained by a junior noncommissioned officer who has led troops in combat.
“Veterans are uniquely suited to serve,” said William Rodriguez, three-time Operation Enduring/Iraqi-Freedom Veteran. “If we can engage the public and private sector business a little more with effective programs on veterans cultural competency we will be able to fix the underemployment issue.”
Typically, employment is the most common area in which the private sector connects with veterans, followed closely by other forms of business activity such as preferential discounts for veterans, or charitable donations and employee matching programs from businesses supportive of veterans’ causes. In Santa Barbara County, however, there does not appear to be any large-scale or otherwise significant private sector effort to engage with veterans or veterans’ causes, whether in the realm of hiring initiatives or corporate social responsibility programs that leverage company resources in service to meeting the needs of local veterans.
In addition to supporting the Santa Barbara County Veterans Needs Assessment the Santa Barbara Foundation has provided grants to Veterans Stand Down, the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building Foundation, and partnered with Highland Santa Barbara Foundation, Inc.to support the Veterans Resource Centers at Santa Barbara City College, UCSB, and Alan Hancock College, to name a few.
“If all these different organizations across the county working for veterans started working together and coordinate together to leverage larger dollars,” said Alvin Salge, Commander, Solvang VFW Post 7139 and USAF Vietnam Veteran, “this would make a greater impact for veterans in our county.”
For more information on how you can help, please contact Kathy Simas at KSimas@sbfoundation.org.