The Veteran Professional

 
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Mark Delaney of The Veteran Professional talks about career and educational options for service members as they are transitioning into civilian life.

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Scott DeLuzio: 00:03 Thanks for tuning in to the Drive on Podcast, where we talk about issues affecting Veterans after they get out of the military. Before we get started, I'd like to ask a favor if you haven't done so already, please rate and review the show on Apple podcasts. If you've already done that, thank you. These ratings help the show get discovered so it can reach a wider audience. And while you're there click the subscribe button so that you get notified of new episodes as soon as they come out. If you don't use Apple podcasts, you can visit DriveonPodcast.com/subscribe to find other ways of subscribing, including our email list. I'm your host, Scott DeLuzio. And now let's get on with the show.
Scott DeLuzio: 00:44 Hi everybody. Today my guest is Mark Delaney. Mark runs the Veteran Professional website, which helps Veterans access things like higher education, help them pursue professional careers, and find meaning and purpose after hanging up the uniform. Mark, thanks for joining me and welcome to the show. Why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Mark Delaney: 01:09 Scott, thanks for having me today. I'm really excited to talk to you and share my message with the audience. I joined the Army in 2011 after doing four years of ROTC at the University of Maryland. I started off as an Infantry officer in the 82nd Airborne and I did that for a few years, deployed to Iraq and then decided I wanted a change of pace and change of OPTEMPO for what I was doing. And so, I decided to go into the civil affairs realm. So, for those of you who may not be familiar with the Army, it's a smaller function within a special operations umbrella. I went to CA route, I went to a selection and qualification course, and then was in the 96 Civil Affairs battalion, which is aligned with Sit-com each one of the battalions is aligned with a different COCOM.
Mark Delaney: 01:57 And while I was there deployed to Syria in 2017 and then Saudi Arabia in 2018 to 2019, and then somewhere around 2017; honestly, is when I decided getting out of the military is the right decision for me for a variety of reasons. And then ultimately decided that that's what I was going to do. So, I signed out and I was on terminal leave in December 2019, and then through that process I decided that there wasn't enough information out there regarding the transition. And so, I started this website called the Veteran Professional, and I'm sure we'll talk about this a bit more. My original game plan was to get out of the military and then put on a backpack, hop on a plane, and travel the world until I start my MBA this fall, it sounded really great on paper. And then in March, things are shutting down because the COVID, so that threw a giant wrench in my plan and I had to come back to the United States, moving in with some family. I'm helping take care of my niece and nephew working on the website right now. And then I'll be starting my MBA at the University of Virginia this fall.
Scott DeLuzio: 03:06 Okay, cool. I've spoken to a lot of people who have transitioned out of the military and one thing that I noticed is that we all end up taking somewhat different paths, whether it's hiking around the world, or they're starting a nonprofit, or they're going back to school or whatever, we all have different paths and it's interesting to hear stories like yours, you had this plan and it wasn't that long ago that you were in the military, you had this plan to get out and travel the world. And now here you are, not traveling the world. What were some of the frustrations that you faced? This wasn't too long ago that you got out of the military, but what were some of the frustrations that you faced when transitioning out of the military?
Mark Delaney: 03:56 It fell into three different buckets from what I saw. I was getting out; I was fortunate enough to already have my undergraduate degree and I had the GI bill. Going to graduate school seemed to me like a logical option. My grandfather went to school on the GI bill, my dad went school on the GI bill. And my dad said, “if you don't go to school on the GI Bill, you're an idiot.” So, I used the GI Bill. It's like, okay, I'm going to go to graduate school. But it was so hard to find information about getting that next level after your bachelor's as a Vet and different programs. There's a lot of different nuances to each different bit of the graduate application world where they're going to med school, law school, or business school, or you want to go be a researcher of some type.
Mark Delaney: 04:43 Veterans have unique challenges in translating military experience into an academic setting. Just like we do translate your military experience into a professional job setting on a resume or whatever. It's the same set of problems. And so, I saw that was my first frustration was a lack of information about being a Vet, wanting to apply to graduate school. Then the next problem that I had was going through the transition process, especially what they put you through, with the military programming is. It felt very much like, just go get a J-O-B, go get a job. We just want you to get something. I don't want to be so cynical as to say, just so we can have some of the numbers filled and some good stats for us. I know they're better people than that, but that's what it felt like sometimes. And everyone in uniform, part of the reason you did that is you wanted something bigger. You wanted a higher purpose, you wanted a mission and leaving, everyone has that fear you're never going to regain that sense of service and camaraderie that you had. And I just didn't like how we were being pushed into jobs. I think people wanted something a lot more.
Scott DeLuzio: 05:59 Yeah. I definitely agree with that. It seems like you sort of backed away from saying it full out, but I'll say it; it seems like they're trying to check a box and say, “Hey, we helped you find a job and you're going to be able to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. It may not be fulfilling work. It may not be what you're necessarily trained to do and what you're passionate about. And it's not really sparking any major interest of yours, but at least you'll have food on the table and a roof over your head. And that's sort of what it sounds like sometimes happens with some of these Vets who are getting out, they end up just settling for a job that isn't necessarily what they were meant to do or destined to do.
Mark Delaney: 06:54 And I think part of that's okay; you don't have to have everything figured out the moment you get your DD 214 and head on out to the real world. It's okay to embrace the uncertainty in that. But I just thought there's room for improvement and helping people find something that was going to be meaningful and purposeful to them. And my third frustration was there are a gazillion resources out there to help Veterans, all kinds of nonprofits and different company initiatives and everything. And I realized that that's a little ironic because I'm saying that, and then I'm only adding to the white noise, doing my website and everything. But what I try and do through the site is bring some of those better ones to the top and say, I've checked this organization out, I've personally used it, or I've had someone recommend it to me. I've checked it out and vetted it. And it's really outstanding. And this is something that's worth your time and effort into putting into this resource. And maybe some of these other ones, that time you spend on another organization comes in and opportunity cost of working with a better one that could be better for you. And so, I try and push those latter ones to the top for the audience.
Scott DeLuzio: 08:09 And that's great. So, I know you wanted to compile some of this information but what were some of the motivations behind starting the Veteran Professional website to put this information out there?
Mark Delaney: 08:26 So I got out in December, so I was probably sitting around in October or so. And I was starting to go through the process and I could see that some of this stuff just isn't out there. So, this information that I have, these questions just aren't out there. Well, okay why don't I just do something about it? So, at first, I just started writing on medium or putting stuff on LinkedIn or whatever. And then people were responding to what I like. I happen to like to write, I was an English major as an undergrad. So, I like to write, I have a bit of an entrepreneurial itch and then it's like, okay, well, what do I do with these? What do I know about getting out of the military, that's very timely. And I have a lot of good information out there. Why not lean into that and write about that and put information out about that, because I know it's something I wanted going through. And so, I was trying to build something for myself, knowing that other people probably wanted it as well.
Scott DeLuzio: 09:27 Yeah. And it's a great resource to have to, with all this stuff in, in sort of one location, because I know, for me anyways, there's plenty of programs out there. Even things like the GI bill and things like that. And sometimes people just don't know whether or not they qualify for these things or whether or not they've served long enough in certain capacities or whatever, if it's the difference between someone who's National Guard or Reserves serving long enough time on active duty to have access to certain benefits or whatever the case may be. Trying to track some of that information down is sometimes like trying to track down a needle in a stack of needles, and it's just not easy to do. So, having a resource like this, where someone can spell it out in plain English and say, here's the benefits that are available, if you fit these criteria and that might be a good thing to have for these types of people.
Mark Delaney: 10:43 And what I was trying to do, in my research of trying to look up the GI bill, or how do you use VocRehab or work at the VA or whatever it was, I would do my Google searching and I might find an article here or there. And usually I walked away with more questions than answers. And it comes from these big websites that either, led to two things and they're going to lead to a big website that is like a content mill. That's just like try to put crap out there to get your clicks and your views or it was like a law firm that wanted to then try and sell me their services. So, they didn't want to give away too much information, but just enough to pique my interest to then get me to hire them. This stuff is all there, and there's people going through it, it just needs to be shared. And so that's what I wanted to do.
Scott DeLuzio: 11:40 Just looking at your website, a quick overview of the website, you have lots of different content, and I like the way it's laid out too. When you first come to the site, you may not know exactly what the site has to offer, what's available there. So, you have this “new to the site” section, where it has a lot of information to transition into an MBA or books to read during your transition, that type of stuff. That's great information to start off with. Once you're there, you dig in a little bit more and have a lot more information about specific paths that you might end up taking, whether it's college or other things that you might be looking into entrepreneurship or other things like that. So, it's really a great resource that you have. Are there any people, I know this is relatively on the new side, but are there any people that have been success stories who have come to your site and learned some information and followed up with you and let you know
Scott DeLuzio: 13:03 what they're doing now in terms of their path and everything.
Mark Delaney: 13:08 So, the site's only been around for like seven months. So, my pool of potential is still relatively low, but I have had a few people who said, the site's very MBA focused right now just because that's been my personal path. So, I've been doing a lot of writing about going to the military to get an MBA. And I've had a few people reach out to me and say, I found your website, I followed your methodology and I got it to the school that I wanted too; and getting that has just been absolutely awesome. Some of my writing, I try and focus on the touchy-feely side.
Mark Delaney: 13:47 I try and talk about the mental tough struggles of going through and getting out of the military and trying to figure out what you're going to do next and just deciding whether you want to get out or not. I've had a few people reach out to me about those. I read this post today and it's what I needed mentally; maybe only reached out to that person for that brief moment of time, but that's been truly tremendous to get the feedback from people.
Scott DeLuzio: 14:15 That’s great that people are getting the benefit out of it and especially if you're going to put in all the work, which, looking at the website, it looks like you have put in quite a bit of work, especially in just about seven months or so; it seems like you have put in quite a bit of work. So, I'm glad that people are getting the benefits out of it. Someone who is in a position where they're about to transition out of the military, and they're uncertain about what their next steps are going to be. And I know next steps are going to be different for everybody. We talked about that a little bit earlier. What would your advice be to them to get them on the right path after leaving the military so that they can find a more fulfilling path as opposed to just checking the box and getting a job?
Mark Delaney: 15:11 I would tell anyone to start off with thinking about what is truly meaningful to you and how are you going to create the best life for you and your family? If you really just want to be like a really good parent and stay coaching your kids' soccer teams, and I can get a lot of time in with your significant other and everything, maybe you are looking more for that job and that's okay; maybe you want something where you're going to get off work every day at five o'clock and you can go pick your kids up at school or coach the football team or whatever then that's what you need to do. The beauty of leaving the military is, it's a blessing and a curse that you're overwhelmed with options.
Mark Delaney: 15:54 And you now get to chart your own adventure and figure out what life is going to look like for you. And if you want something that's going to have a very regular schedule. You can do that. If you say, you know what, I'm at a good time in my life that I've had this idea for a company and I want to pursue it and go after it and try and build it. Now's the time to do that. There are some really good resources. And so I encourage anyone to think about what's important to you and how you're going to make the best life for you and your family, and then figure out what resources are out there to help you leverage the opportunity of getting out. And that's how I look at the process of getting out is an opportunity because you're at this rare junction in your life, no matter what you're doing, where you're making this monumental change of leaving what you've been doing, and this identity that you've had as a service member. And you also had the blessing of having a lot of resources at your fingertips that you can use to make that a very successful transition. So leveraging that, thinking through what it is that you want to do and leveraging those resources to pursue what it is that you want to do can make you and your family the happiest, do it.
Scott DeLuzio: 17:09 Yeah, absolutely. And what about the type of person who has been dreaming up this idea for a business or whatever the case may be and they want to dip their toe in the entrepreneurial waters. What resources are out there for people who are looking to jump into entrepreneurship, or would you even suggest that they jump straight into entrepreneurship or is there another path that maybe is better?
Mark Delaney: 17:44 So the first way that I would suggest trying to dip your toes into the water, so there's this program called the DOD Skills Bridge program, and it's a super underused and only a few people know about it. And so essentially what it is if you're a transitioning service member in your last six months, you can just go work at a regular company and that's your job. So, me personally, I went to go work for a small tech startup. When I say small, I was the second person in the company and I worked there for three months. And so, I was getting on military paying benefits. I was still a Captain in the Army, but my job in the Army was to work at this startup for three months.
Mark Delaney: 18:27 And it was awesome. I learned so much. And so, if you have any interest in doing entrepreneurship, I would highly recommend finding a startup in your area that's looking for help. And I guarantee you, they're looking for help. And it's a super easy sales pitch to go to them and say, “Hey, I'm a Vet. I'm getting out. I want to learn. I'm ready to bust my butt and guess what? I can work for you for free.” And they're going to say, “where do I sign? How do I hire you right now?” And it's almost deceptive to the company because it's all I needed was a memo from my battalion commander. It was super simple, very little paperwork. Everyone was actually weirded out by how little paperwork was in the process. But I would say, that's the first place to start dipping your toes in the water.
Mark Delaney: 19:12 Additionally, huge shout out to two organizations that I definitely want to let everyone know about. The first one, Bunker Labs, which is a national organization that has branches throughout the country and their entire mission is to get Vets into entrepreneurship. So, they do it in a number of different ways. They have meetings where there's usually beer and free food. They have a speaker, maybe it's a local entrepreneur. It may not even be like a Veteran entrepreneur, just a local entrepreneur. And that person comes and gives a talk about something. They also have free online classes you can take. And it's really just an awesome organization to get anything started as a Veteran and the second big shout out that I want to give is this organization called Vet to CEO. And this is especially timely because actually the next cohort starts July 1st and it's run by these three retired military dudes.
Mark Delaney: 20:07 I think they were all Colonels or somewhere around there, but they're really awesome. And they run you through this seven-week program and each week there's a two and a half hour or three-hour class. And it provides all kinds of great resources. And they really walk you through how to be an entrepreneur, whether it's buying a company or creating your own. I never seriously thought about buying a company. And so, I went to the course and they showed me that it's a lot easier than you think that it is. And you don't have to have $2 million in your bank account to go buy a company there are ways to do it. And they walk you through that process because they've done it themselves. And I can't talk about those guys enough. They're awesome.
Scott DeLuzio: That's great. I didn't realize
Scott DeLuzio: 20:48 some of these programs are available and here I am a Veteran entrepreneur myself, and I don't even know that these things exist, so definitely if you're considering taking the plunge into entrepreneurship, the DOD, the Skills Bridge program Bunker Labs and Vet to CEO, check those out. Those are great resources that are out there. And it seems like they'll help you get your foot in the door and get you on the right path to go down that entrepreneurial journey. Now what about someone who's in your shoes who has their undergrad, maybe an officer, maybe they're enlisted, they got their degree and either while they're serving or before they're serving, and now they're looking to getting their MBA or going for a higher education, get another degree or something like that on their, resume.
Scott DeLuzio: 22:02 What's your advice for those types of people who are looking to get into that?
Mark Delaney: 22:09 I mean, obviously come check out the Veteran Professional website, that's where all the best information is. I would recommend to anyone if you're trying to figure that out. So, especially for business schools and most big graduate schools, they're going to have a Veterans club. And the club usually has two main purposes. The first is helping Veteran applicants get into the school. And in the second one is helping Veterans at the school get jobs. And so, I found immense value in working with the Veterans clubs at schools. The Vet net is a real thing, and people just want to help. I very often would talk at school to the Veterans club there and they said, you know what? We don't even care if you come to our school, we're going to help you out any way. And we just want vets to go to schools and take advantage of the opportunities that are given to you, and we just want you to succeed. And so, I found a ton of value in reaching out to his organization. So, I would definitely start your search there.
Scott DeLuzio: 23:13 Another resource that when I was in college, this was before I joined the military. So, the Veterans clubs and the different organizations that might have been involved in the school were not really anything that were of very much interest to me because I wasn't a Veteran at the time. And didn't really know too many people who were either. So, it's another great resource.
Mark Delaney: 23:47 I'm jumping in with one more. This is not for graduate school, but undergrad actually, there's this new nonprofit called Next Step Inbound, and I've talked to and connected with those guys. They're super cool. It's three former enlisted Marines. I think one of them might still be on active duty, but enlisted Marines, and every one of them is starting at an Ivy league, undergrad school this fall. What I wanted to do for graduate school. They tried to do the same thing for vets looking into undergrad. So, they have a blog, they put out information, they put out some really great stuff for those interested in going to the application process. And then they have some plans in the pipeline to help you out in a more formalized manner as well.
Scott DeLuzio: 24:37 That's good.
Scott DeLuzio: 24:42 What about the mindset switch when you're getting out of the military, it's a different world in the civilian world versus the military lifestyle that you might have grown accustomed to as you were in the military. What advice do you have for people making that transition and going through that switch to it; we're not a light switch where you can just turn it off, what is that like for you?
Mark Delaney: 25:15 Yeah, it's tough. It's a different world. You and I both were infantrymen and I can't talk in the civilian world like I could when I was with my platoon. It's a different language. I would recommend first, if you're having concerns about it, reach out to someone that has left the military in the last 18, 12 months, something like that. You probably know someone like that; just reach out to them, call them. One, it's good to talk to people and your friends anyway. It's awesome. It's good to reconnect with the people you served with and just say “Hey, how's it going? What are some of the challenges you're having?” So, I would start there. And then there's two really fantastic mentoring organizations that I want to give a shout to. So one is a Veterati and then American Corporate Partners and they each have a different way they go about aligning a Veteran with a mentor, but their sole purpose is to align you with mentors to help you through the transition process. And both those organizations are highly top notch and I can’t recommend them enough.
Scott DeLuzio: 26:23 That's awesome that those organizations exist too. And you're dropping names here like left and right. And it's pretty awesome. It's great. One of the reasons why I have this podcast is to make these resources available to people and when someone is going through whatever the struggles are that they're going through, it doesn't have to be necessarily as hard hitting as PTSD. It could just be a transition out of the military, but if you don't know about these organizations that you've listed off at least half a dozen organizations that are out there that can help with one thing or another in this transition, whether it's getting into entrepreneurship, whether it's getting into school, getting out of the military in general, there's all these organizations that are out there; they're desperately trying to help these people out and let's make it easy for them to do their job.
Scott DeLuzio: 27:23 Let them help. So, the more information I can get out there on these organizations to connect people to these organizations, the better. I just interviewed somebody earlier today who's going to be on another episode, but they were talking about how they reached out and made a connection with another former guest on this show. And it's just great for me to hear that there's people out there are making these connections through the show, even if it's just the one person it's still connections being made and things been done. So, I'm pretty happy to hear about that. And I'm hopeful that people who might be listening to this will reach out to some of these organizations and get to take advantage of the resources that they have available. One other thing that I know you talked a little bit about on your website and I don't know how much you want to get into it, but one thing I know is there is a maze of information. It's just not easy to figure out. It's the VA filing for VA claims, VA benefits, things like that. Where does someone start with these types of things?
Mark Delaney: 28:47 So, whenever I'm talking to people about working with the VA, I think back to a Maddus quote. It's probably a madness quote, as some of the better quotes and it's “be kind, be curious, have a plan to kill everyone.” And I say, take that attitude into the VA. I don't literally mean kill people, please don't do that.
Scott DeLuzio: No, you didn't have that here. Didn't hear that here.
Mark Delaney: What I mean is very often you're working with the VA, the initial challenge is getting past, the first person you talked to. It might be calling in and you're going to talk to the person that did the administration desk or the reception desk or something. And just the reality of it is like, they're fairly low paid government worker.
Mark Delaney: 29:40 Maybe you luck out and you have someone who really wants to help you, but the truth is that's just not the case. And if you've been in the military, and you try to turn gear back in or something like you understand what these people are like. Be courteous, be kind, but have a plan to get what you want. And don't be upset. Don't be worried about pursuing what it is you need to do. And the difference in mental transition is like, when you're in the department of defense, everything is told to you about what's going to happen. Here's your report. Wait a minute, you're going to go here, you're going to do this, you need to go get this done. You're not often your own advocate within the system. Well, it changes when you get to the VA, you have to be your number one best advocate in that system in order to get the resources and the benefits that you need to have a successful transition. That's why I say be courteous, be kind, but have a plan to be deliberate and get what it is that you need.
Scott DeLuzio: 30:41 Right. And you really do. I know for myself going through VA claims and other things at the VA, you really do have to be your own advocate. You have to stand up for yourself. You have to keep fighting back and fighting. Maybe it's not the right word, but keep pushing back when you get those no answers or when there's something out there that is available to you and you're getting pushback and the doors are closing on you, you keep pushing until you get through those doors and you get to where you need to be. I know several people who've gone through the VA process for one thing or another. And they kept having doors closed in their face and they're just being told no; this is not available or whatever and they kept fighting until they eventually got what they deserved from that. So that's great.
Mark Delaney: 31:50 I know I personally had, before I left, I went through the disability claim with the VFW. They actually had an office on base. They were awesome. They were a huge help. They literally did everything for me. They were fantastic. I can't talk too much beyond like that specific thing, but for that purpose, they were fantastic. Loved them.
Scott DeLuzio: 32:12 And that's something I've had people on from the VFW, the American Legion, and organizations like that. And it's really great to find out that they're doing stuff like that. It's one of those things before I talked to them that I didn't realize that that's something that they were doing is helping out with these types of claims. Had I known prior to filing my own claim on my own, when I hit that, basically figuring out all this stuff on my own, it was a pain in the butt trying to figure it out. Had I known that there were these resources available, I would have been in a better position. So, maybe that's something I need to revisit and go check those people out. Maybe they can help me. Is there anything else that you wanted to add about the transition process, things that you do and anything like that?
Mark Delaney: 33:11 What I would encourage anyone to do is… So, a lot of the times that struggle, I think we all struggle with the change in identity and, you've been in the military and you wear the same thing every day. And you talk a certain way and you have a haircut and hanging out with military people and it’s your entire life. I always joke with my family, the Army wasn't a job, it was a lifestyle choice. It defined everything about me. Changing to that next phase of your life, look at what it is that you want to do that's going to make you and your family happy and be ready to adapt to that identity. You also don't need to lose that identity as a Veteran.
Mark Delaney: 33:57 You don't need to be ashamed about being proud on Veterans day. You don't have to be ashamed about having that time to yourself and the people you served with on Memorial day. When you're thinking about someone that you've lost, you don't need to be ashamed about having an Army mug in the office or whatever it is. You don't have to make it overbearing, but it's okay to say, yeah, I'm a Vet. And this is who I am, and this was a part of my life. And I don't want to hide it. I don't want to force it on people, but I don't want to hide it either
Scott DeLuzio: 34:28 For sure. Absolutely. I think that's great advice. So, with that, we're coming up on time on the episode here, but I definitely wanted to thank you for joining us and telling us your story and everything that you have going on over at the Veteran Professional. Where can people go to find out more about the Veteran Professional and everything that you're doing over there to follow your journey?
Mark Delaney: 34:56 So the first place to check it out is the website www.theVeteranPro.com and then from there, you can find links to all the appropriate social medias, and then my personal Instagram, as well is @ Mark B. Delaney.
Scott DeLuzio: 35:09 Okay. And we'll have links to all of this in the show notes so people can find it there. So, thank you Mark again for sharing your story with us. I look forward to hearing more about it in the future.
Mark Delaney: 35:20 Yeah, absolutely. Scott, thanks for having me. Thank you.
Scott DeLuzio: 35:29 Thanks for listening to the Drive on Podcast. If you want to check out more episodes or learn more about the show, you can visit our website DriveonPodcast.com. We're on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @DriveonPodcast.

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