Veterans & Criminal Justice Careers

Education & Career Resources for Veterans Interested in Criminal Justice

Many veterans getting out of the military today choose to continue serving their country and communities by working in the public service sector. Afterall, it seems a natural fit to continue to make use of the skills and talents one gains during a career in the military. One such career field in which veterans can use their learned military skills is criminal justice. When people think about the criminal justice field, a job as a police officer usually comes to mind; however, this field of work is much more diverse than many others. It also includes jobs as bailiffs, paralegals, park rangers and in forensics to name a few. This guide can help you find ways to parlay your skills and land a job in the criminal justice field.

A Closer Look: Advantages of 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 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 for 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.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about educational benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website.

To get a better idea of how to achieve a criminal justice career, below are four sample career fields and the six potential milestones for each one needed to achieve that career choice:

Police Officer

  • Duties: Enforce local, state and federal laws to protect citizens and property in a community.
  • Milestone 1: Join the military and serve until honorably discharged.
  • Milestone 2: Complete associate degree in criminal justice.
  • Milestone 3: Use GI Bill benefits to attend a police training academy.
  • Milestone 4: Accept job offer with local police department.
  • Milestone 5: Rise through the ranks.

FBI Special Agent

  • Duties: Investigate alleged or suspected illegal activity related to the federal government.
  • Milestone 1: Join the ROTC during college. Graduate with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
  • Milestone 2: Complete military service with honorable discharge.
  • Milestone 3: Attend the FBI Academy at Quantico, VA.
  • Milestone 4: Pass a background check, drug test and polygraph; secure Top Secret security clearance.
  • Milestone 5: Accept conditional offer with the FBI and start on-the-job training.

Fish & Game Warden

  • Duties: Prevent fish and game violations in a prescribed area of responsibility.
  • Milestone 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in environmental studies.
  • Milestone 2: Serve with the military until honorably discharged.
  • Milestone 3: Complete state game warden training program using GI Bill.
  • Milestone 4: Start on-the-job training with a field training officer.
  • Milestone 5: Promote through ranks.

Paralegal

  • Duties: Supports lawyers by Investigating case facts; researches and prepares various legal documents.
  • Milestone 1: Complete military service with honorable discharge.
  • Milestone 2: Use GI Bill benefits to earn an associate degree in paralegal studies.
  • Milestone 3: Complete a bachelor’s degree in related field (optional).
  • Milestone 4: Earn voluntary certifications to stand out to employers (optional).
  • Milestone 5: Secure a job as a paralegal.

Criminal Justice Careers for Veterans

The criminal justice field encompasses many 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.

Skills, experience and training gained from military service will transition smoothly over to 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 (MOS).

Military service teaches its members the knowledge and abilities that cross over well into other non-criminal justice fields, such as:

teamwork
discipline
leadership
decision-making
critical thinking
communication
conflict resolution
adaptability

It is not hard to imagine how each of these military-learned skills could be used in the day-to-day work of criminal justice jobs. These are also great areas to highlight on a resume.

Resumes: Applying Your Military Skills to Criminal Justice

Veterans have advantages when applying for competitive jobs in the criminal justice arena. While a recent criminal justice graduate with no previous military experience might satisfy the education requirement for the technical part of the job, veterans have the added bonus of real-life experience (at times under austere and dangerous conditions) gained from their military service. Veterans should highlight these valuable skills and experience on their criminal justice resumes and during interviews.

The following depicts how a veteran might translate military skills to a civilian resume:

Job
Military Skills Special investigations officer – Air Force
Criminal Justice Resume Crime scene investigator
Summary
Military Skills
  • Investigation experience
  • Teamwork
Criminal Justice Resume 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.
Experience
Military Skills
  • Special investigations officer
  • Security forces specialist – enlisted
Criminal Justice Resume
  • Special investigations officer in various international locations (2009-2014)
  • Managed a counterintelligence team of nine members
  • Coordinated and directed criminal and special investigations
  • Formulated new plans to protect a base against cyber threats and criminal fraud, decreasing the frequency of these events by 33 percent
  • Security forces specialist in various international locations (2004-2009)
  • Ensured safety of all weapons, personnel and property on base
  • Apprehended subjects and secured crime scenes
  • Testified in judicial hearings
Education
Military Skills
  • Criminal justice degrees
  • Courses related to crime scene investigation
Criminal Justice Resume
  • M.A. Criminal Justice from Ridge Mountain University (Expected Graduation: 2019)
  • Relevant coursework: advanced criminological theory, cybercrime, federal criminal law and prosecution, information security seminar
  • B.A. Criminal Justice from Green State University (2004)
  • Relevant coursework: introduction to criminology, investigations, forensics and crime analysis
Relevant skills
Military Skills
  • Court experience
  • Teamwork
  • Medical training
  • Computer certifications
Criminal Justice Resume
  • Thorough court preparation through written reports and testimony
  • Emergency medical response
  • Excellent with teamwork, planning and collaborative investigative work
  • Firearms safety
  • Comp TIA Security+, Comp TIA A+ and Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist certification
Awards & accolades
Military Skills Leadership awards
Criminal Justice Resume 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 the military. With this format, a person’s value proposition — what he or she can do for the company — goes right at the top followed by capabilities regarding 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 skills from the language used in the resume, they most likely will pass over the applicant and move onto the next one. Almost all military jargon and terms can be “civilianized”.
Use keywords or buzzwords on the resume. Many screening software programs look for words in resumes that are specific to the job. resumes without those words are overlooked and not moved to the short list; getting onto the short list can lead to an interview request. To find these keywords, note the frequently used terms in the job listing and intersperse these throughout the resume and cover letter, if required.
Weave in soft skills terminology. Employers like applicants who can show they have some universally accepted skills like organization, decision-making and team player, for example. Work these and other relevant soft-skills words into the resume in a natural way.
Include quantifiable statements. Employers not only want to know what applicants did in the military, but how well they did it. Instead of mentioning team leadership, job-seekers could say they were directly responsible for the care, well-being and safety of 10 individuals assigned to them. Or instead of the applicants saying they were in charge of the section’s equipment, they could be more specific with “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 the skills, knowledge and abilities with the requirements of the position. Applicants should demonstrate to employers that they not only meet the requirements of the position but exceed them.

Veteran Benefits & Support: From School to Career

Transitioning from military service to the civilian workforce can be a major shift in life. However, the Department of Defense and the VA have resources available to help make the transition easier. From the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) training before discharge, to using the GI Bill to fund post-secondary education, to getting help from qualified counselors trained to work with veterans in school, there are numerous people and resources ready and willing to help veterans succeed in a post-military environment.

Transition Assistance Program (TAP)

Part of the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, TAP redesigned its 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 their eligible benefits and available resources that assist an easier transition to civilian life and the workplace.

Education Benefits: GI Bill®

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 pay out-of-pocket 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 by the VA; the student receives a monthly housing allowance based on school’s zip code and number of course credits and up to $1,000 per year to help defray book costs.

Benefits expire 10 years after the date of discharge for the MGIB or 15 years for the Post-9/11 GI Bill veterans discharged before Jan. 1, 2013. Veterans discharged on or after that date can use their benefits as long as they have entitlement left to use, as the 15-year limitation was removed by the Forever GI Bill.

As generous as the GI Bills are, sometimes they are not enough to complete the desired post-secondary education. Once GI Bill funds are exhausted, veterans can look for other available financial aid resources to help fund their degrees. Find scholarships and other ways to pay for school in this guide on higher education resources for veterans.

VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC)

Administered by the VA, the VSOC program provides counselors to select schools to grant transition help and outreach to veterans and their dependents using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. At the time of writing, more than 100 schools across the nation are staffed with VSOC counselors.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

Online vs. On-Campus Criminal Justice Programs

Higher education learning formats are usually divided into three categories: online, on-campus or hybrid, which is a combination of the first two. 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 the given needs.

On-Campus

Structured
Structured

Students always know when their criminal justice classes will be held, making scheduling of other activities easier.

Social interaction
Social interaction

Students on campus have more opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and network with professors and peers face-to-face.

Support
Support

Veteran students usually have easier access to support and outreach programs and more opportunities to meet other veterans at a traditional campus.

Facilities
Facilities

On campus students have better access to the school’s library, athletic and other facilities.

Eligible for GI Bill benefits
Eligible for GI Bill benefits

Both the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI bills are good choices for on-campus criminal justice programs. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, students receive the full monthly housing allowance and book stipend and get their tuition paid directly to the school.

More Information
More Information

For more information about on-campus degrees and the schools offering them, visit the criminal justice degree hub page.

Online

Flexible
Flexible

With a fully online criminal justice degree program, the student controls scheduling. They can access classes whenever it fits into their day.

Accessibility
Accessibility

Students can access class coursework from anywhere as long as they have an Internet connection and a computer.

More degree options
More degree options

Many online schools offer specialty criminal justice degrees that may not be offered at a local campus. This opens more options to tailor a degree to a specific focus, regardless of physical location.

Cost-effective
Cost-effective

Many online criminal justice degrees have all the coursework online thus eliminating the need to buy textbooks or pay commuting costs.

Eligible for GI Bill benefits
Eligible for GI Bill benefits

Both GI Bills allow veterans to use their education benefits toward online criminal justice programs. With the Post-9/11 GI Bill, students receive a reduced monthly housing allowance (about half of the full amount) compared to taking an on-campus program.

More information
More information

Online criminal justice degrees explores degree options and helps students choose an online school.

Scholarships for Veterans

While the Post-9/11 GI Bill generally pays for tuition and applicable fees up through the doctorate level at public schools, it is not enough in many cases to complete advanced degrees or pay for private schools. Scholarships allow veterans to continue pursuing higher education even after their GI Bill has run out. The list below highlights a few examples of scholarships specifically designed for veterans:

AMVETS National Scholarship program
  • Sponsoring organization: AMVETS National Service Foundation
  • Amount: $1,000 annually, up to four years
  • Application deadline: April 30

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.

See Scholarship

Legacy Scholarship Program
  • Sponsoring Organization: Army Women’s Foundation
  • Amount: From $1,000 to up to $2,500 depending on the level of school work
  • Application deadline: Jan. 15

Scholarships are available to female Army veterans and active-duty personnel and their children to help them achieve their education goals ranging from certificates to graduate degrees. Awards of $1,000 are for those pursuing associate degrees or certificates, while $2,500 awards are for undergraduate and graduate students.

See Scholarship

Military Order of the Purple Heart Scholarship Program
  • Sponsoring organization: The Military Order of the Purple Heart
  • Amount: Varies
  • Application deadline: March 1

Number of scholarships awarded varies per year. Applicants must be Purple Heart recipients and also members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Association. Spouses and descendants of Purple Heart recipients down to the grandchild level are also eligible for scholarships.

See Scholarship

Sport Clips Help a Hero Scholarship
  • Sponsoring organization: Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S.
  • Amount: Up to $5,000
  • Application deadline: April 30

Open to honorably discharged veterans and active-duty personnel, including the National Guard and Reserves, ranked E-5 or below who demonstrate financial need.

See Scholarship

Job Search Resources

  • American Academy of Forensic Science: The American Academy of Forensic Sciences is a multidisciplinary professional organization that works to advance forensic sciences as it applies to the legal system. The academy is made of more than 7,000 members of the 11 branches of the science and includes dentists, attorneys, toxicologists and chemists, to name just a few applicable careers.
  • American Correctional Association: Founded in 1870, the American Correctional Association champions the causes for corrections and its effectiveness. The mission is to be a professional organization to all individuals and groups that share a common goal of improving the justice system. Obtaining the correctional certification through the ACA’s self-study program could improve the chances of getting hired as a correctional officer.
  • American Jail Association: The American Jail Association is an amalgamation of the National Jail Association and National Jail Managers’ Association. Since merging in 1981, their combined mission is to train, network and meet on issues facing the nation’s jails. The AJA offers three credentialing certifications that could increase hiring opportunities.
  • American Society of Criminology: The ASC provides multi-functional job database where employers can list jobs and applicants can post information about their qualifications, as well as apply for open positions.
  • Discover Policing: The jobs listed on this site not only pertain to just police officers nationwide, but can be pared down to each individual state via a state search feature. Potential applicants can post their resumes along with employers posting open positions.
  • Feds Hire Vets: 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.
  • Go Government: 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.
  • Government Jobs: 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.
  • Hiring Our Heroes: Administered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, this job site is dedicated to helping veterans, transitioning service members and their spouses find essential employment.
  • International Association of Women Police: The mission of the IAWP Foundation is to educate and enlighten the public about women in law enforcement or police-related activities around the world, in addition to training, educating and recognizing performance and achievement of women in law enforcement.
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: One of the missions of the IAVA is to help veterans in search of employment network and connect with top companies that hire veterans. One of the network venues it uses are job fairs to join veterans face-to-face with company representatives hiring veterans.
  • National Criminal Justice Association: Providing a voice to state, local and tribal governments, the mission of the NCJA is to bring awareness to crime control and prevention issues in both the criminal and juvenile populations. They also have a Connect2Justice Jobs section where qualified individuals can search jobs, post resumes and receive job alerts as desired.
  • National Sheriff’s Association: The NSA is a clearinghouse for global safety and training. The association has links connecting to court security, jail operations, Homeland Security, leadership, community policing and cybersecurity and offers a variety of webinars on police-related subjects.
  • PSJD: Specific to the legal field, the PSJD website not only list jobs, but also has a lot of information on job applications, career paths, education funding and more in its Resource Center.
  • Student Veterans of America: With more than 1,500 chapters located on college and university campuses, the SVA helps student veterans connect and support each other. In addition, it also provides resources and programs to an ever-changing student population of veterans and related issues because of their military service.
  • USA.gov: This job search website offers opportunities ranging from federal government employment, to jobs requiring a security clearance, to government internships.
  • USAJOBS: 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.
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Recently redesigned, the new VA website now has four portals into their website: Health, Disability, Education and Records. Within each portal are links to the respective subject making it easier to navigate quicker to what is important to each specific veteran.
  • VA for Vets: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hires a lot of people in criminal justice and maintains a search field that shows current job openings in addition to other useful job search information.