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Unite Us: A Cutting-Edge Approach To Helping Veterans

Maxim's military correspondent takes a look at how veterans can simplify their search for work.

In the weeks leading up to my long-awaited separation from the military, one thing dominated my thoughts more than anything else: The celebration. There would be beer involved, lots of it, for days - and girls, too (there weren’t.) Then, after I sobered up, I’d get my brand new civilian life underway, and it would be nothing short of awesome. I had plans, big ones, and I still do. Because I’d been a medic, a lot of people –my superiors, my friends, even my parents - were surprised (and confused) when I told them that I had no intention of staying in the medical field, and that, instead, I was getting out of the Army to pursue a career in journalism. The day I drove through the gates of Ft. Campbell for the last time, knowing I’d never have to report for duty again, was one of the greatest of my life. As the months rolled on, however, I began to realize that making the transition from Army combat medic to journalist was going to be a much greater challenge than I had anticipated, and that after six years in the military, I had a lot to learn about not just being a civilian again, but about being a veteran in the civilian world.


There are a butt-load of organizations focused on assisting veterans transition from the military back into civilian life, which is good and necessary, considering that over 200,000 service members separate from the military annually, and, as I’ve discovered, the transition isn’t easy. There’s the VFW, the American Legion, IAVA, and thousands more, including tons of smaller grass-roots organizations operating in communities across the United States. However, many veterans - me included - return to the civilian world and never take full advantage of all of the benefits and resources available to them. Why? Dan Brillman, Air Force Reserve pilot and CEO of Unite Us, a New York-based startup company launching this fall, explained in a recent phone interview that the abundance of resources makes it difficult for veterans to pinpoint the ones that can accommodate their specific issues, needs, and career ambitions. He also explained that there is currently a profound disconnect between veterans and the companies, organizations, and people looking to help or hire them. “Ah!” I exclaimed, thinking the conversation was over. It wasn’t. Turns out Mr. Brillman, who also holds an MBA from Columbia University and who is a very smart man, had a lot more to say on the topic, as well as Unite Us’ mission to use its state-of-the-art digital platform to streamline the transition process by giving veterans instant, easy access to the plethora of resources and career opportunities available to us. Read Dan Brillman's answers to my questions about Unite Us below.



Who is Unite Us for?

“Military members, whether they’re serving or they’ve gotten out or even pre-commissioned, if it’s applicable. The other demographic is military families – spouses, children, and parents. Also, civilian supporters, people who want to get engaged in the community, whether they volunteer their time, they join non-profits or community-based organizations, or maybe they’re even willing to hire locally. So what we really are is a community management platform, connecting all these dots together, and we do that through interactive mapping, so it’s not just, hey, here’s a laundry list of what you need – it’s, here’s where you are, and here’s the access to your community. People don’t know what’s in their communities that can help them. There are so many little organizations dedicated to helping veterans, whether that’s one-on-one mentoring, transition services, or whatever. If you talk to them they’ll tell you that their single biggest problem is that they can’t find veterans to help. So these little organizations just pop up and go away. For example, there’s one, called the Commit Foundation, who do about 25 one-on-one mentoring from start to finish for veterans with disabilities or guys who are having issues, and they can’t raise enough money to sustain themselves. To me, that’s a problem. These are free services and they’re doing a great job - providing a direct impact. If we can bring visibility to them, I think that’s a win for us.”


What’s the biggest problem for veterans that your service addresses?

“It’s really just access. So whether you’re talking to a veteran that needs employment or a veteran who just wants to meet someone else – say, if you served in the Army and you just want to meet another Army guy down the block who shares your same interests. As for employment, if you Google veteran jobs, you’re going to get two and a half million hits in half a second, and the overabundance of things that are out there is overwhelming for veterans. You hit the first ten websites, you’re going to have to go through ten different registration processes that may take from 30 minutes to two hours each. A lot of veterans just give up and say, ‘Who can I talk to that’s done this before?’ After World War II, everyone came home and businesses put up billboards that said ‘come to our manufacturing firm and we’ll hire you today.’ It was literally a community-based opportunity, and that’s what we’re trying to replicate digitally. We get postings from all these huge oil and gas companies for jobs that pay, like, $150,000, and they want to fill them with veterans. They’re looking for them, but they don’t have the mechanism to access them. There’s no database of veterans saying, ‘Hey, I’m in this city and I’m looking for this kind of job.’ There are plenty of jobs – the supply is there. What we’re trying to do is remove a lot of those barriers and give direct access to that supply. ”



How does Unite Us work?

“When you register on our site, you pick things you need assistance with, whether that’s finance, housing, spouse support - maybe you just want to meet supporters or other veterans. Or, you want to find things that you can assist others with. It’s an easy-to-use format. We built a real time curation tool where I can give this admin panel to 3,500 different cities, an ambassador in each one, and say, ‘Go figure out what are the best resources in your city, compile them, and then we’ll curate them.’ That city now has a community-based resource system. You come to our site and say, ‘I’m looking for assistance with my healthcare benefits,’ and you find someone, whether that’s a vocational rehab counselor or just another Army guy. That’s discovery, that’s direct access to someone who can help facilitate, who has the answers you’re looking for. Ideally, we want to be in every transition office, so the last thing you can do before you get out of the service is sign up for Unite Us. That way, you have all of these resources available to you digitally instead of just a laundry list of printed out links.”


So how, for example, would you be able to help me specifically?

“There are plenty of veteran journalists out there. It’s just a matter of meeting these people and talking to them about how they got into that industry, because the military is not going to help you do that. They are going to be like, ‘All we know is your MOS is this, so that means that you can do this, this, and this when you get out.’ If journalism is what you want to do, go to the Unite Us website and see what veterans are enrolled in, say, the Columbian journalism school, meet them, and say ‘I’m interested in getting into journalism school – how did you do that?’ We’re not replacing Facebook, we’re not replacing LinkedIn, we’re not replacing any of these things. We’re providing an opportunity to create authentic connections.”