From Military to Public Service Criminal Justice & Veterans Education & Career Resources for Veterans Transitioning to Criminal Justice
Many veterans see public service careers as a way to keep serving their country after getting out of the military. One field frequently chosen by veterans is criminal justice. While people may think of a police officer or security guard, the criminal justice field includes jobs as diverse as bailiffs, paralegals, park rangers and forensic accountants. This guide describes degree options and career paths within criminal justice and outlines resources for veterans to pay for school, find jobs and transition to the civilian workforce.
A Closer Look: Advantages to a Criminal Justice Education
Most criminal justice jobs require some sort of post-secondary education. At a minimum, on-the-job training or certification is required, while earning an undergraduate degree can open up more job options, and advanced degrees can lead to supervisory or managerial positions in criminal justice. Most veterans can enter a criminal justice training program with some transferred credits from their military experience, not only reducing the time needed to earn a credential, but also conserving GI Bill entitlement that can be used toward future education.
Criminal justice professionals work in almost every industry, both public and private, and job openings are on the rise and expected to continue growing. Veterans who earned a degree before serving in the military can move on to job-specific training to launch their criminal justice careers. Those who seek additional education post-military can use their GI Bill benefits for college or job training such as police academies. The milestone map below outlines potential career and educational paths for veterans in various criminal justice careers:
Enforce local, state and federal laws to protect citizens and property in a community.
Join the military and serve until honorably discharged.
Accept job offer with local police department.
Investigate alleged or suspected illegal activity related to the federal government.
Complete military service with honorable discharge.
Pass a background check, drug test and polygraph; secure Top Secret Security clearance.
Prevent fish and game violations in a prescribed area of responsibility.
Serve with the military until honorably discharged.
Start on-the-job training with a Field Training Officer.
Supports lawyers by Investigating case facts; researches and prepares various legal documents.
Use GI Bill benefits to earn an associate degree in paralegal studies.
Earn voluntary certifications to stand out to employers (optional).
The criminal justice system consists of three main parts: (1) law enforcement (police, sheriffs, marshals); (2) adjudication (courts which include judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers); and (3) corrections (prison officials, probation officers, and parole officers). In a criminal justice system, these distinct agencies operate together under the rule of law and are the principal means of maintaining the rule of law within society.
Source: USLegal Definitions
Criminal Justice Careers for Veterans
Criminal justice encompasses many different types of careers categorized broadly into five groups: law enforcement, corrections, homeland security, forensics and legal. Within each category, there are opportunities for entry-level applicants with education ranging from on-the-job training to advanced degrees. Many jobs favor candidates with degrees and experience in criminal justice or a related field; while some careers, such as information security analysts or forensic psychologists, require special training in their areas of expertise.
Many of the skills, experience and training gained from the military will transition smoothly into a criminal justice career. For example, a Military Intelligence Analyst could start working as a criminal investigator or private detective with minimal additional training. Veterans pursuing formal education or training programs in criminal justice may earn college credits for some of their applicable military training or Military Occupational Specialties.
Military to Criminal Justice: Transferable Skills
Every new hire starts at the entry level, but the skills of a veteran are recognized early on the job, therefore they usually have a better chance for upward career movement sooner than a non-military hire.Police Lieutenant Anthony Zimmerman Sr. (retired)
Military service teaches its members many different types of knowledge, skills and abilities that cross over well into many civilian careers in the criminal justice field, such as:
- 1. Teamwork
- 2. Discipline
- 3. Leadership
- 4. Decision-making
- 5. Critical Thinking
- 6. Communication
- 7. Conflict Resolution
- 8. Adaptability
It is not hard to imagine how each of these military-learned skills could be used in the day-to-day work in many criminal justice careers, ranging from the legal field to forensics to law enforcement.
Criminal justice is a good fit for veterans because of several reasons:
First, the veteran has most likely encountered stressful situations before, so that person has the experience to either deescalate or solve situations that come up on the job.
Second, veterans are already skilled with firearms, something that non-veterans usually have to learn from the beginning [for some law enforcement positions].
Third, because police departments are very similar in organization to the military, veterans know how to accept orders and are familiar how a chain of command works.
Finally, veterans may be eligible for Veterans’ Preference for agencies using a numerical point system. If so, veterans can receive bonus points for their military service, so that when the hiring list comes out, they place higher than someone not having Veterans’ Preference status.”
Your Resume: From Military to Criminal Justice
Veterans will have many advantages when applying for competitive jobs in the criminal justice arena. While a recent criminal justice graduate with no previous military experience might have the education for the technical part of the job, veterans will have the added bonus of real-life experience taught or gained from their military careers. These skills and experience are something that veterans should highlight in their criminal justice resumes.
The following graphic depicts how a veteran might translate military skills to a civilian resume.
Special Investigations Officer – Air Force
Crime Scene Investigator
Ten years of experience in Special Investigations and Security Forces with the U.S. Air Force, working on teams in dynamic environments to investigate crimes and ensure the safety of military operations.
Special Investigations Officer
Security Forces specialist – enlisted
Special Investigations Officer – Various International Locations
Managed a counterintelligence team of nine members
Coordinated and directed criminal and special investigations
Formulated new plans to protect base against cyber threats and criminal fraud, decreasing the frequency of these events by 33 percent.
Security Forces Specialist – Various International Locations
Ensured safety of all weapons, personnel and property on base
Apprehended subjects and secured crime scenes
Testified in judicial hearings
Criminal justice degrees
Courses related to crime scene investigation
M.A. Criminal Justice – Ridge Mountain University (Expected Graduation – 2016)
Relevant coursework: Advanced Criminological Theory, Cybercrime, Federal Criminal Law & Prosecution, Information Security Seminar
B.A. Criminal Justice – Green State University (2004)
Relevant coursework: Introduction to Criminology, Investigations, Forensics, Crime Analysis
Thorough court preparation through writing reports and testifying
Emergency medical response
Excellent with teamwork, planning & collaborative investigative work
Comp TIA Security+, Comp TIA A+, Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist
Awarded the following medals for leadership:
Defense Meritorious Service Medal (2014)
Joint Service Commendation Medal (2013)
Resume Writing Tips for Veterans
- Use a modified functional resume format
This format works better when the applicant has had a lot of experience with one company, such as being in the military. With this format, your value proposition—what you can do for the company—goes right at the top followed by your capabilities in regard to each task or requirement listed in the job posting. Then list experience, education and awards further down, each in its own section.
- Avoid using military jargon
Most employers do not understand the acronyms and terms used by military personnel. If they cannot assess your skills from the language used in your resume, they most likely will pass over you and move onto the next one.
- Use “keywords” or “buzzwords” in your resume
Many of the screening software programs look for these words in resumes. Resumes without them are passed over and not moved to the short list which can further lead to an interview request. To find these words, look for same words frequently used throughout the job listing.
- Weave in “soft” skills words
Employers like applicants that can show they have some universally accepted skills like “organization”, “decision-making”, “team player”, etc. Work these words into your resume in a natural way.
- Include quantifiable statements
Employers not only want to know what you did in the military, but how well you did it. Instead of saying you led a team, say you were directly responsible for the care and well-being of 10 individuals assigned to you. Or instead of saying you were in charge of the Section’s equipment, say you were responsible for $500,000 worth of equipment with zero losses.
- Match skills, knowledge and abilities
Read through the job posting and try to match as closely as possible your skills, knowledge and abilities with the requirements of the position. Demonstrate to employers that you not only meet the requirements of the position, but exceed them.
Veterans Benefits & Support: From School to Career
Transitioning from military service to a civilian workforce can be a major shift in life. However, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have resources available to help make the transition easier. From Transition Assistance Program training prior to getting out, to using the GI Bill to fund post-secondary education, to getting help from qualified counselors trained to work with veterans once in school, there are many people and resources ready to help veterans succeed post-military.
Transition Assistance Program (TAP)
Part of the Veterans Opportunity to Work and Hire Heroes Act of 2011, TAP redesigned it largest component, the employment workshop, to be more relevant to today’s job market and to help veterans transition to the civilian workplace. For future criminal justice professionals—and all veterans in general—TAP informs them of the benefits they are eligible for and the resources available to them.
Education Benefits: GI Bills
The two most popular GI Bills are the Montgomery (MGIB) and the Post 9/11, each providing up to 36 months of education entitlement. With the MGIB, students are paid a fixed monthly amount and then have to pay tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses from this amount. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, tuition and fees are paid directly to the school; the student receives a monthly housing allowance based on school zip code and number of credits taken and up to $1,000 per year book stipend. Benefits expire 10 years after the date of discharge for the MGIB, or 15 years for the Post-9/11.
Once GI Bill entitlement is exhausted, veterans can look for other available financial aid resources to help fund future their degrees. Find scholarships and other ways to pay for school on our guide on higher education resources for veterans.
VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC)
Administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the VSOC program provides counselors in select schools to provide transition help and outreach to veterans and their dependents using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. At the time of writing, just under 100 schools across the nation are staffed with VSOC counselors.
Online vs. On-Campus Criminal Justice Programs
Higher education learning formats are usually divided into three categories: online, on-campus, or hybrid. Both online and on-campus criminal justice programs have their advantages, as well as notable differences. Use the table below as a guideline for determining which format is best for your needs.
Students always know when their criminal justice classes will be held, making scheduling of other activities easier.
With a fully online criminal justice degree program, the student controls scheduling. They can access classes whenever it fits into their day.
Students on campus have more opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and network with professors and peers face-to-face.
Students can access class coursework from wherever they have an Internet connection.
Veteran students usually have easier access to support and outreach programs and more opportunities to meet other veterans at a traditional campus.
Many online schools offer specialty criminal justice degrees that may not be offered at your local campus. This opens more options to tailor a degree to a specific focus, regardless of location.
On campus students have better access to a school’s library or athletic facilities.
Many online criminal justice degrees have all the coursework online thus eliminating the need to buy textbooks, college housing or meal plans.
Either the Montgomery or Post-9/11 GI Bills are good choices for on-campus criminal justice programs.
Both GI Bills allow veterans to use their education benefits towards online criminal justice programs. With the Post-9/11 GI Bill, students receive a reduced monthly housing allowance compared to on-campus programs.
Paying for a Criminal Justice Education:
Scholarships for Veterans
While the GI Bills generally cover tuition fees up through the bachelor’s level, they may not be enough to complete advanced degrees or pay for private schools. Scholarships allow veterans to continue pursuing higher education even after their GI Bills have ran out. The list below highlights a few examples of scholarships specifically designed for veterans:
This scholarship is designed to help veterans who have exhausted their GI Bill benefits with undergraduate, graduate or certificate studies from an accredited trade school, college or university.
Scholarships are available to female Army veterans to help them achieve their education goals ranging from certificates to graduate degrees. Awards of $1,000 are for those pursing associate degrees or certificates, while $2,500 awards are for undergraduate and graduate students.
Approximately 80 scholarships will be awarded in part to Purple Heart recipients who are also members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Association. Spouses and descendants of Purple Heart recipients are also eligible.
Open to honorably discharged veterans and active duty personnel, including the National Guard and Reserves, in the rank of E-5 or below that demonstrate financial need.
Applicant must be a combat veteran with a campaign or expeditionary medal attending a trade, university or college in the state of Michigan and a member of the VFW.
Expert Interview with
Police Lieutenant (Ret.) Anthony Zimmerman Sr.
As an Air Force veteran, why did you choose criminal justice?
I chose police work because of its similarity with the military. I liked the regimentation of the military which is something also found in many criminal justice jobs. Because I had learned military bearing in the Air Force, it was an easy transition to carry this skill over to a policing job and feel comfortable—and proud—wearing a uniform again. And it was a career that provided work stability, helping people, and a pension-all very similar to serving a career in the military.
What skills did you learn in the Air Force that served you well in your criminal justice career?
The skills I learned from military service were numerous – more than I had imagined until I got on the job. For instance, how to work as a member of a team. Teamwork is the heart of policing. From working with a partner on the street to being a SWAT Commander, I used that skill everyday on the job.
Decision-making in both stressful and non-stressful situations was another skill I used almost every day. Whether in the office or out on patrol, we would encounter situations that required a cool head to make the right call to solve the situation with the least collateral damage. Another skill that was important to me was being able to follow orders during my early years and give them as I moved into positions of supervisory and management later in my career.
On the street, people appreciate being treated fairly. Part of doing that entailed using another skill learned from military service—communication. Many times people just wanted someone to listen to their problem and as a policeman, my partner and I ended up being that sounding board. In many cases, just by being a good listener and responding to their situation, we were able to prevent a bigger issue from happening. [This] skill went even farther as it not only helped me communicate verbally with superiors, subordinates, peers and people on the street, but also with written communication. I was able to fill out police reports better making them more effective and accurate.
Top 10 Job Search Resources for Veterans
While some criminal justice jobs are in the private sector, many reside in the public service arena at the local, state and federal levels. Working for the federal government makes more sense for veterans thanks to potential advantages in hiring and seniority as a result of prior military service.
Here is a collection of 10 of the more popular job search databases designed with the veteran in mind.
This job bank has a separate section for veterans. Because of special hiring authorities in place and veterans’ preference, many of the jobs listed are with the federal government.
From the Home Page, select from career categories such as Criminology, Law Enforcement and Legal to find government job openings around the country. Browse by job title, description, salary and location.
This job database has federal service jobs listed by profession or location. Choose from Investigator, Legal, Police or Security for positions open in these criminal justice fields.
This job search website offers opportunities ranging from federal government employment, to jobs requiring a security clearance, to government internships.
This website provides resources for military members transitioning to the civilian world and explains how to use veterans’ preference and special hiring authority, along with how federal government jobs are filled.
The jobs listed on this site pertain to just police officers, but can be pared down to each individual state via a state search feature.
Administered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, this job site is dedicated to helping veterans, transitioning service members, and spouses find meaningful employment.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hires a lot of people in the criminal justice field and maintains a search field that shows current job openings.
This site includes a job search feature and information specific to veterans, such as veterans’ preference and special hiring authority, and Veterans Employment Opportunity Act, and how to use these programs.
Specific to the legal field, the PSJD website not only list jobs, but have a lot of information on job applications, career paths, education funding and more in their Resource Center.
Spotlight on: Veterans’ Preference
Veterans’ Preference is a program that depending on dates of military service, receipt of a campaign badge, earning a Purple Heart award or having a service-connected disability a veteran can earn points over other non-veterans’ preference applicants. These points only apply when competing for new competitive appointment jobs within the federal government at an agency that use a numerical point rating for hiring. The point system does not apply to existing jobs where a person already employed is promoted, transferred, reinstated or reassigned.
When a numerical point system is not used, veterans with a compensable service-connected disability rating of 10 percent or more are placed at the top of the organization’s referral list.
Eligibility & the Point System
Under the Veterans’ Preference system, eligibility falls into three broad categories and preference groups within each category:
- Sole Survivorship – SSP 0 points
- Non-disabled – TP 5 points
- Disabled – XP (disability rating less than 10 percent), CP (disability rating of at least 10 percent, but less than 30 percent), CPS (disability rating of 30 percent or more) 10 points
Refer to the table below for more details on the Veterans’ Preference point system.
|Zero Points – SSP||Five Points – TP||10 Points – XP, CP, CPS|