Careers After the Military in Homeland Security and Emergency Management

Police officer in sunglasses holding a radio.

After military service, veterans often have concerns when seeking civilian employment. According to U.S. Veterans Magazine, common challenges include adding new, competitive skills; updating skills gained in a pre-military role; or sometimes even crafting a first resume.

Every day, veterans gain valuable professional skills and knowledge and build rewarding careers after the military with the help of their military experience and expertise. [Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness online degree program] offers veterans a solid foundation in national defense, emergency management and law enforcement, advanced leadership skills and interpersonal skills, and tools for confronting natural disasters and threats. Add this to your past military experience, and VCU’s program can position you to succeed in a great career after the military.

Graduates of VCU’s program can compete with confidence for challenging, empowering career paths. Here are some strong career paths graduates can pursue.

Defense/National Security Contracting

Another potential veteran career path is in the defense and national security contracting industry. Contractors sell services or products to government agencies and organizations, but they aren’t part of the federal government itself.

Defense contractors can range in size and services. Their customers can be inside or outside the military. For example, Boeing not only sells equipment to the U.S. military but also sells planes to major airlines.

Defense contractors offer many professional career paths for veterans. Veterans working for defense contractors may serve as engineers, business analysts or project managers. These roles demand technical knowledge and expertise, as well as strong interpersonal skills.


Police officers and border patrol agents focus on physical dangers to communities, states and even the entire nation. Intelligence is also a field crucial to law enforcement, where dedicated individuals evaluate potential threats to the United States.

Officers in an intelligence division or law enforcement agency analyze a criminal suspect’s financial activity to investigate evidence of a crime, monitor a threat’s digital communications for information regarding potential criminal activity, use advanced technology to surveil threats from remote locations, and call on a network of contacts and resources to get information on threats or criminal activity.

The following are examples of intelligence organizations where veterans can forge a fulfilling post-military career path:

  • CIA — The CIA is a federal agency with a wide range of tools and resources at its disposal and is primarily focused on gathering foreign intelligence on threats to U.S. national security, including terrorism and cyberattacks.

  • National Security Agency — Part of the U.S. Department of Defense, the NSA collects and analyzes intelligence from across the globe, identifying and combating threats to national security. The NSA may also monitor suspects within the United States.

  • Defense Intelligence Agency — The DIA is dedicated to gathering information and data regarding defense and military affairs and evaluating military threats that certain countries or individuals may pose.

  • Bureau of Intelligence and Research — Part of the U.S. Department of State, the INR seeks to analyze information that can benefit U.S. diplomatic relations.

  • Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence — Part of the U.S. Department of Energy, the OICI collects and analyzes information on energy and scientific and security topics, such as nuclear weapons.

A common professional role in these agencies and organizations is information security analyst. Information security analysts protect Americans from cyberthreats and cybercrime. They are digital experts who develop guidelines and tools to secure an organization’s computer systems and data.

According to the BLS, daily responsibilities include monitoring networks for potential security breaches, updating software and preparing reports on security status, conducting penetration testing and analysis, and making recommendations on how to improve cybersecurity.

To build a successful post-military career in an intelligence organization, veterans need to have the necessary education and skills and meet any other requirements. For example, to become an analytic methodologist for the CIA, candidates need experience in areas including statistics, mathematical programming and modeling.

To compete for a computer science position with the NSA, candidates typically have strong backgrounds in areas like vulnerability discovery, object-oriented programming and information assurance. It’s a good idea for veterans to have a specific career path in mind that incorporates their prior military experience and to understand the position’s core requirements.

Emergency Management and Public Safety

Even in this advanced digital age, natural disasters and emergencies take a devastating toll on individuals and communities across the country. Veterans who wish to help people whose lives have been disrupted by catastrophic events can pursue a post-military career in emergency management and public safety.

Emergency management professionals safeguard people from natural disasters and threats, such as earthquakes, floods and hurricanes. According to the BLS, responsibilities include meeting with public and government officials to coordinate efforts, analyzing the damage after disasters have taken place, organizing emergency response efforts, working with individuals impacted by disaster, and managing funding during recovery efforts. Emergency management directors often work for the government, but they also serve private and nonprofit organizations, such as the American Red Cross.

These professionals travel on short notice to areas stricken by disaster, work with individuals whose lives and health have been damaged, and collaborate with new team members on the spot. Because of the high-pressure nature of these roles, emergency management professionals must keep calm in stressful situations, be highly organized, have a firm understanding of government procedures and protocols, and be able to make difficult decisions quickly.

Public safety professionals help individuals and communities whose lives, health and security are at risk. These professionals include firefighters, emergency medical technicians and professionals who work for a department of animal control.

Because veterans often have military experience working under pressure and taking on a wide range of responsibilities, these positions can be ideal. Military work experience makes veterans great candidates for roles in emergency management and public safety. This experience “enables applicants to make difficult decisions in stressful and time-sensitive situations. Such experience also prepares one to work with various agencies to ensure that proper resources are used to respond to emergencies,” according to the BLS. As Americans continue to face threats from disasters, the demand for these roles looks to increase.

Information Security and Critical Infrastructure Protection

In today’s digital age, threats to U.S. security are often digital attacks or cyberattacks. That’s why the United States has built a strong cyber defense, full of talented professionals with strong technical skills. An exciting role in this cyber defense environment, and a potential veteran career path, is information security analyst.

Government organizations that employ information security analysts and other tech-oriented professionals include the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. This agency’s stated mission is to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure from physical threats and cyberthreats. Examples of critical infrastructure include the chemical sector, communications sector, defense bases, and food and agriculture. Compromising any of these threatens American security. Information security analysts monitor cyberthreats and strategize digital defenses against them.

To become an information security analyst, you need proficiency in information technology. Employers typically require candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. Additionally, information security analysts tend to have considerable experience working in technology. While some veterans already have an impressive technical background from their military experience, they would do well to gain additional education or certifications to stay competitive.

Additionally, information security analysts need a strong attention to detail as they apply new security procedures and monitor potential and existing cyberthreats. Because they must support their strategies for combating cybersecurity threats, information security analysts also exercise persuasive interpersonal skills.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement is a popular career path for military veterans. On any given day, a law enforcement officer might patrol an assigned area, issue traffic citations to make our roads and highways safer, or respond to emergency calls about threats or dangerous situations

All officers share key duties and skills. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Job duties differ by employer and function, but all police and detectives write reports and keep detailed records that will be needed if they testify in court. Most carry law enforcement tools, such as radios, handcuffs, and guns.”

Police officers must know local, state and federal laws and carry themselves professionally and ethically. They are expected to not only show empathy and practice good judgment but also to make tough decisions when necessary. Not only that, according to the BLS, they are trained in special skills like firearms use and first aid.

Some federal agencies hiring law enforcement officers include:

  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — ATF monitors and regulates tobacco, alcohol, firearms and explosives.

  • Drug Enforcement Administration — The DEA polices and prosecutes illegal drug trafficking.

  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — ICE monitors and regulates immigration activity.

  • State police — A state police agency combats crime throughout an entire state or multiple areas within a state.

  • Border Patrol — A border patrol agent monitors the safety of U.S. borders against potential threats.

Typically, an officer in a state or federal agency collaborates with other officers from a different department or agency. For example, if there’s a major drug bust in Los Angeles, both the Los Angeles police and DEA usually act together.

Police officers seeking employment in these state and federal organizations will need to meet specific requirements. For example, to become a special agent within ATF, applicants must pass a special agent exam and an assessment test, comply with the organization’s drug policy, and complete a field interview.

Requirements for becoming a border patrol agent differ: applicants must have lived in the United States for at least three of the past five years, complete training and education courses, and speak Spanish well.

Employees advance within law enforcement only after a probationary period. How far a veteran advances within their career in law enforcement is directly tied to their job performance and how well they score on certain written evaluations. Promoted officers may end up working in a specialized unit.

Keep Making a Difference: Start Your New Career

Switching from military to civilian life can be challenging. For veterans considering a meaningful new career leveraging their past experience in the military to make an impact, this article presents just a snapshot of what’s possible.

Veterans with previous knowledge and experience from military service still need to be sure they have the in-demand skills employers are looking for if they want to be top candidates for a fulfilling career after the military. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness gives students an in-depth education in professional theory and practice, extensive leadership and communication skills. Take your career to the next level and discover more about VCU’s flexible online program today.