Op-Ed | Veterans need employment support after serving our country

Veteran African Man Person Education
Photo via Getty Images

During these volatile economic times, and as many sectors are still struggling to fill open jobs, New York City should tap into the unique skill sets of veterans—and support employment programs that offer tailored support to meet our needs.

Veterans like me can have trouble adjusting to civilian life, including securing stable career opportunities after the military. A Pew Research Center report shows that nearly 50% of post-9/11 veterans found it somewhat or very difficult to readjust to civilian life after their military service, and 28% say they received unemployment benefits.

I served our country in the Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005, and the Army National Guard from 2006 to 2013. I was deployed to Afghanistan, serving overseas in 2012. After my term of service, due to a self-destructive lifestyle and alcoholism, I was incarcerated for five years. Upon my release, I was eager to renew my life — and that’s when I found Project Renewal, a nonprofit that the City funds to support veterans like me. 

In 2018, I enrolled in the nonprofit’s Culinary Arts Training Program, which trains New Yorkers for careers in the culinary field. Many participants are those who face barriers to securing employment, including veterans and those with histories of justice involvement like me, but also New Yorkers who are unemployed, have experienced homelessness, or have histories of substance use.

The six months of classroom training and internship experience gave me confidence and motivation to keep going. Upon completing the program, the Project Renewal team was impressed by my hard work and dedication, and I was hired as a cook at the organization’s social enterprise catering company, City Beet Kitchens. I have since been promoted twice, and now work as the Training and Quality Control Manager. 

I oversee the service Project Renewal allocates to contracts with other homeless shelters to provide food for their residents, assess food quality, address discrepancies, and take feedback to the team for improvement. I enjoy applying many of the skills I learned during my time of service, including discipline, adaptability, critical thinking, and working with a team toward a common goal.

The food service sector has few barriers to entry and due to labor shortages, it continues to have among the highest number of job openings, making it ideal for people who have faced previous challenges when seeking employment.

Project Renewal’s program has opened my horizons to a whole new field of work after the military and put me on a career path with real growth opportunities – something that all veterans deserve. This Veterans Day, I hope the City will continue to honor those who have served our country by investing in proven programs that address our needs.

Richard Ralph is a veteran currently living in Brooklyn.

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