Top Criminal Justice Career Opportunities for Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Life

Transitioning into civilian life, veterans often seek career paths that value their service experience. Criminal justice career opportunities for veterans abound, with a high demand for your expertise in leadership, discipline, and strategic thinking. This article provides a concise overview of how you can convert military skills into a rewarding second career in law enforcement, corrections, or federal services.

Key Takeaways

  • Military veterans possess a unique set of transferable skills—such as problem-solving, leadership, adaptability, and attention to detail—that make them well-suited for various roles within the criminal justice sector, including police officers, detectives, correctional officers, and federal agents.

  • Veterans can benefit from pursuing educational opportunities and specialized training programs to meet the qualification requirements of criminal justice positions, with many utilizing the GI Bill and other financial aid options aimed at facilitating this transition.

  • Networking through veteran-specific job boards, professional organizations, and educational programs can significantly enhance job opportunities for veterans in the criminal justice field, helping them to leverage their military experience in a new career after service.

Leveraging Military Experience in Criminal Justice Careers

Veteran in police uniform

Military veterans, who were once service members, bring a unique skill set to the table that sets them apart in the civilian workforce. Their military service equips them with valuable skills for civilian life, such as:

  • Problem-solving abilities

  • A strong work ethic

  • Leadership skills

  • A sense of integrity and responsibility

All of these qualities are highly esteemed by employers in the criminal justice system. The transition, however, is not without its challenges. Veterans often face hurdles in adapting their military expertise to the civilian job market.

Despite the challenges, veterans’ high degree of adaptability enables them to effectively apply their military experience to civilian roles. Over 50% of leading occupations for veterans do not mandate prior work experience, thereby facilitating a seamless transition into criminal justice careers. These positions offer fulfilling careers where veterans can continue serving their community, much like they served their country.

Transferable Skills for Criminal Justice Positions

Despite each job requiring a distinct set of skills, veterans bring a suite of universally applicable skills gained during their military service to various criminal justice roles. Among these valuable skills are strong leadership skills, discipline, and teamwork, which can be leveraged in various criminal justice roles.

Moreover, veterans bring a host of other transferable skills to the criminal justice field. Some of these skills include:

  • The capacity to follow executive orders

  • Adaptability

  • Strong work ethic

  • Attention to detail

  • Problem-solving

  • Communication skills

All of these skills are advantageous in criminal justice careers.

The teamwork skills honed in the military environment can lead to effective teamwork in high-pressure scenarios, enhancing:

  • Safety

  • Efficiency

  • Communication

  • Morale

All of these are crucial in policing or detective work.

Training Programs and Certifications

While military skills and experience provide an advantageous foundation, further qualifications are often required for criminal justice positions. Most of these roles typically necessitate post-secondary education, certifications, or on-the-job training. Federal positions often mandate a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, along with specialized training. Hence, veterans seeking a transition into criminal justice careers stand to gain substantially from specialized training programs and certifications.

These training programs provide a platform for training personnel to refine the skills obtained during military service and acquire new skills relevant to the chosen career path. These programs also offer a chance for veterans to network with professionals in the field, opening up opportunities for mentorship, internships, and potential job placements.

Top Criminal Justice Careers for Veterans

Federal agent badge and gun

The realm of criminal justice careers presents a diverse and plentiful array of options. Veterans with military training can progress in law enforcement careers by undergoing job performance evaluations and completing a probationary period. They have the opportunity to serve in intelligence organizations such as the CIA and NSA.

Veterans making the transition should showcase their skills in:

  • Maintaining detailed records

  • Writing reports

  • Using standard law enforcement equipment

  • Understanding local, state, and federal laws comprehensively

This knowledge can be achieved through proper training, making them strong candidates for roles in law enforcement.

Police Officer or Detective

Many veterans transitioning from active duty into the civilian workforce often consider a career path as a police officer or detective. Military experience, such as serving in the national guard, can be advantageous in these roles. It imbues veterans with qualities such as:

  • Discipline

  • Integrity

  • Teamwork

  • Critical thinking

  • Adaptability

  • Physical fitness

  • Mental resilience

All of these qualities are essential for law enforcement roles.

Transitioning into a career as a police officer or detective is facilitated by police departments through transition assistance and specialized training programs. These departments actively seek veterans to fill these positions. Veterans need to complete a Military Occupational Code (MOC) Crosswalk and thoroughly investigate the specific training and certification prerequisites in the field of law enforcement. The physical requirements include maintaining mental and physical strength, agility, and having a relatively clean police record.

Correctional Officer

Another career path for veterans, especially those in their post military career, is the role of a correctional officer, tasked with managing and supervising inmates in prisons and jails. Military experience provides individuals with essential skills such as maintaining order, working with law enforcement, and managing high-stress situations, which are valuable in correctional officer roles, making it a fulfilling career choice.

Prospective correctional officers usually undergo a rigorous 4 to 6-week training program that encompasses fundamental first aid and essential skills, akin to law enforcement training. Eligibility typically entails:

  • U.S. citizenship

  • Either a bachelor’s degree or three years of pertinent experience

  • Physical fitness and good health

  • 20/30 vision

  • Proficiency in handling firearms

The typical salary range for a correctional officer usually falls between $44,550 and $55,525, making it an appealing profession for veterans.

Federal Agent

Another avenue for veterans is to pursue careers as federal agents, serving in various roles within agencies like the ATF, DEA, and border patrol. Their responsibilities may include:

  • Law enforcement

  • Crime investigation

  • Evidence preservation

  • Report writing for government prosecutors

  • Apprehension of criminals

  • Providing testimony in court

To pursue a career as a special agent within the ATF or a border patrol agent, individuals are required to successfully complete a special agent exam and an assessment test, adhere to the organization’s drug policy, and undergo a field interview. Veterans bring a range of specific military skills that can be highly advantageous in a federal agent role, such as leadership, integrity, teamwork, communication, management, organizational planning, and research.

Pursuing Higher Education for Criminal Justice Careers

Veteran studying criminal justice

Beyond hands-on experience and on-the-job training, securing higher education can offer veterans a competitive edge in the criminal justice field. Pursuing an advanced degree can elevate their qualifications above those of non-military individuals.

An advanced degree can provide veterans with a strong knowledge base in critical areas relevant to the criminal justice system, including national defense, emergency management, and law enforcement. Veterans can explore degree programs in fields such as criminal justice, which can lead to career opportunities in homeland security, law enforcement, intelligence, and cybersecurity.

Choosing the Right Degree Program

Selecting an appropriate degree program marks a crucial step in transitioning to a criminal justice career. Veterans should consider factors like accreditation, which ensures quality standards are met. Some of the top accredited criminal justice degree programs suitable for veterans are University of Massachusetts–Lowell, Sam Houston State University, and Florida State University.

Another important factor to consider is the financial support available. The GI Bill offers financial assistance to veterans for obtaining degrees in criminal justice, leading to various career opportunities such as:

  • Corrections officers

  • Law enforcement professionals

  • Crime scene analysts

  • Victim advocates

Military-Friendly Colleges and Universities

For veterans pursuing higher education, selecting military-friendly colleges and universities can make a significant difference in their academic experience. These institutions offer support services and financial assistance for veterans. The financial aid options available to veterans include:

  • The GI Bill

  • The Yellow Ribbon Program

  • VA education benefits

  • State-specific financial aid programs

Examples of military-friendly institutions, including those catering to the air force, are Sam Houston State University, The University of Alabama, and American Military University (AMU). These colleges provide a range of support services, such as career assessment, career transition workshops, and marketing and networking opportunities.

Networking and Job Search Resources for Veterans

Beyond education and training, leveraging networking and job search resources is key for veterans making the shift to criminal justice careers. Veteran-specific job boards, professional organizations, and associations provide a wealth of opportunities to connect with potential employers.

Veterans can optimize their use of job boards by capitalizing on their military background. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ website offers a job search tool specifically for criminal justice openings, and networking can greatly enhance a veteran’s employment opportunities.

Veteran-Specific Job Boards

Job boards tailored specifically for veterans prove to be a valuable resource for those seeking employment in the criminal justice sector. Some of the top job boards tailored for veterans are, RecruitMilitary, and

These job boards have unique features that cater specifically to veterans. They offer military skills translation tools, partnerships with veteran-friendly employers, career resources tailored to veterans, networking opportunities, and veteran-focused job listings. Veterans can also enhance their profiles on these job boards by highlighting their experience in following executive orders, their proficiency in handling firearms, and their background in working with law enforcement.

Professional Organizations and Associations

Professional organizations and associations are instrumental in broadening the network of veterans and facilitating job opportunities. Some of the leading professional organizations for veterans seeking opportunities in the field of criminal justice include:

  • American Academy of Forensic Science

  • American Correctional Association

  • American Jail Association

  • American Society of Criminology

There are also professional associations specifically dedicated to veterans in criminal justice. These include the Veterans Justice Commission, the Justice Involved Veterans Network (JIVN), and Justice For Vets. These organizations can contribute to networking within the criminal justice field for veterans by providing a comprehensive list of organizations and associations associated with the field, volunteer opportunities, and facilitating mentorship opportunities.

Success Stories: Veterans Thriving in Criminal Justice Careers

Many veterans have successfully navigated the transition from military service to a civilian career in criminal justice. Their stories serve as an inspiration for others considering a similar transition. Numerous veterans have effectively transitioned into criminal justice careers, leveraging their military experience as a valuable foundation.

Two such veterans are Sebastian Andrews, a Navy veteran who utilized his criminal justice degree to excel in emergency management, and Aaron Torres, who made a successful transition into a civilian criminal justice career through the Boots to Suits program. Veterans apply their military skills in their criminal justice careers by utilizing their resilience, demeanor, and interpersonal skills critical to success in the field. They excel in roles such as detectives, police officers, and many others where critical thinking and management of high-stress scenarios are essential.


In conclusion, the transition from military service to a civilian career in criminal justice presents an array of opportunities for veterans. Their unique skill set, gained through military experience, is highly valued in the civilian workforce, especially in the field of criminal justice. Whether it’s pursuing higher education, utilizing veteran-specific job boards, or joining professional organizations, veterans have a multitude of resources to help them navigate this career transition. As demonstrated by the success stories of veterans thriving in this field, the journey may have its challenges, but the rewards are fulfilling.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is criminal justice good for military?

Yes, a criminal justice degree can provide valuable career opportunities within the military, allowing individuals to apply their knowledge and training to various positions and advance in their careers.

Can a veteran become a detective?

Yes, veterans can become detectives, leveraging their familiarity with law enforcement and potentially moving up the ranks from their prior experience in the military community.

What is the highest paying job in criminal justice?

The highest paying job in criminal justice is a top 20 highest paying criminal justice job and career in 2024.

Is criminal justice a good career choice?

Yes, criminal justice is a good career choice, offering opportunities in law enforcement, the judicial system, and corrections with high demand for professionals.

Can veterans join the FBI?

Yes, veterans are encouraged to apply to the FBI and may be eligible for special preferences in the hiring process. Having an honorable discharge or a service-connected disability can make them eligible for 10-point preference.

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