The initiative, created by consulting firm Sharp Decisions, helps vets transition from the war zone to the workforce

By Saryn Chorney
November 11, 2014 02:15 PM

Veterans Day is traditionally observed Nov. 11, but technology consulting firm Sharp Decisions has made the act of giving back to vets a top priorities year-round.

Vets of all ages across the country struggle to find work. According to NBC Washington, vets in the 18-to-25-year-old bracket face a 20 percent unemployment rate; 60 percent report having difficulty securing a job.

Sharp Decision’s V.E.T.S. (Vocation, Education and Training for Service Members) Program aims to change that. The initiative helps veterans transition from the war zone to the civilian workforce by training them in a familiar “boot camp” environment. These former military personnel are then deployed to clients to work together as a team, which is a key to their success.

This national program was started by Karen Ross, CEO of Sharp Decisions, and while it is based in New York and successful in Los Angeles and Virginia, it can be implemented anywhere in the country.

“I am not a veteran myself, I am just one woman with a big mouth,” Ross told the Fairfax Times. “But I woke up one morning and I read about all these young vets who are unemployed and even homeless and I said to myself, ‘What is wrong here?’ Why can’t they be trained outside of the military? I may not have military experience myself but I know what makes sense, and this just seemed right to me.”

Along with Ross, people like Tim Snyder – a vice president and business technology officer at Freddie Mac in McLean, Virginia – make all the difference. Snyder, a Gulf War vet himself, just brought on a fresh squad of former military hires.

“We love this new program,” Snyder told the Fairfax Times. “These guys come to us already trained and in teams that have already worked together. I would say that they are actually more effective than many of our college hires because they are more experienced, focused and they already know exactly what they need to learn.

On a personal level, Sergeant Nick Lopez gives a firsthand account of why Sharp Decisions’s program is so impactful. Lopez is one of the nearly 300,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan that suffer from PTSD, and when he returned from service, he entered the ranks of the nearly 1 million veterans who can’t find a job. Lopez struggled to support his wife, their three children, and the three foster children they care for. But his fortunes changed upon entering the V.E.T.S. program.

“I don’t know what I’d be doing without the V.E.T.S. program,” Lopez tells PEOPLE. “My life has changed, and I don’t think I [could’ve gotten] here without it. I have a job, and I know my family is taken care of, and that does a lot.”

“I really care about this program and I don’t mind doing the extra stuff because I d do anything to help this program succeed. It was a lifesaver for me,” Lopez wrote in a V.E.T.S. blog. “In a way, Karen [Ross] is doing what a 1st Sergeant would do for their soldier. They always act tough on the exterior, but when they identify you have a problem, they take you under their wing and mentor you. Karen is taking care of us and I’m glad that she cares. It’s scary for a lot of soldiers because they aren’t used to civilian work like this on a corporate level where you can talk if you want to. But having that open-door policy with Karen is a big, big help.”

Indeed, Ross is a huge part of the program’s appeal and success: “I am on a mission to keep expanding the V.E.T.S program so we can hire hundreds more veterans. But I can’t do it alone,” she tells PEOPLE. “I need companies to step up and take on these highly skilled vets. It’s the smart thing for businesses.”

If you are an unemployed vet or want to hire skilled vets as consultants for your company, click here to check out the V.E.T.S. program at Sharp Decisions.

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