Letter to the editor: Veterans need more support like this

Originally published by Austin Business Journal – August 24, 2020

The way we think. The way we talk. The way we interact. The way we cope.

There are fundamental differences in the way U.S. military members and American civilians go about their day-to-day lives.

When those worlds are kept separate, this seems to be OK. But when veterans like myself finally return home, their differences can grow into a potentially life-threatening issue.

Transitioning back into civilian life is difficult. Veterans used to incredibly structured daily routines have to find a new one. They have to find a job. They have to find a place to live. And all the while, they have to try to keep their mental health in check. Approximately 17 veterans die by suicide every day.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. It didn’t feel like it at the time — I didn’t have roots in U.S. soil for 10 years — but when I got out, I went back “home” to where I grew up, Texas. I have a B.A. in computer science and was a meteorologic impacts analyst in the U.S. Marine Corps., so a move to Austin felt ripe with tech-driven opportunity. It was there that I got connected to VetsinTech, an organization that helps veterans and their families pursue education, employment and entrepreneurship.

It was through VetsinTech that I was introduced to Galvanize, which provides an array of full-time, part-time, in-person and online courses covering software engineering and data science. I decided to pursue the software engineering path to learn how to create applications from scratch and take my skillset to the next level.

What I walked away with, though, was so much more than new software engineering skills. Yes, I learned full-stack development and added other technical skills to my resume. But even more important than that, I was given the tools I needed to overcome the cultural hurdle of the military-civilian transition.

In the military, it behooves you to be blunt and not too in touch with your emotions. In civilian life, that’s not as much the case — and I’ve learned how empathy can foster a positive, collaborative work environment. With Galvanize, I was coached on how I could better display my core strengths and make improvements to areas where I was falling short or coming off to others in a way I didn’t intend.

I got frequent, one-on-one career counseling that helped me both professionally and personally. I got my resumé together. I got to practice my “elevator pitch.” I connected with other vet-centered organizations, a stark contrast to friends of mine who went to large colleges or universities and who reported receiving much less individual help.

Whether through luck or being in the right place at the right time, my return to civilian life was made much easier than what is the norm. I was able to find a place that supports me. I’m set to start working for Facebook in August. And as a result, I now have a renewed purpose; part of which is easing fellow veterans’ transitions by increasing their awareness of options like this.

Mario Morales

To learn more about Galvanize, visit https://www.galvanize.com/.

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