They are called heroes, but many veterans do not feel heroic when it comes to translating the skills they learned in training and combat to civilian life.
One Alaska veteran believes aviation can give other veterans a chance at a new life and help stem the tragic suicide rate among his peers.
These emotions may contribute to the fact that an average of 17 veterans take their lives each day, according to a recent Department of Veterans Affairs study.
VIPER is looking to change that and help alleviate the shortage of A&P technicians. A recent Boeing study suggested that about 739,000 maintenance technicians worldwide will be needed to service the world’s commercial fleet over the next 20 years.
VIPER’s purpose is to train and guarantee employment/career placement to veterans and military spouses. It assists applicants in career path decisions and coordinates placement in the program of their choice. VIPER “redefines what it means to transition,” according to the group’s website.
The organization is in the process of launching the VIPER Aviation Maintenance Program, working with the FAA, the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association, the Aeronautical Repair Station Association, and other groups on its design. The program would take veterans and spouses interested in aviation maintenance, provide the necessary training and industry contacts, and support processing with potential employers.
Kaiser began his efforts to help veterans and military spouses in 2017 through partnering with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Association to create the Veterans Electrical Entry Program (VEEP). Since starting VEEP, the group has expanded to other construction trades and industries: ironworkers; sheet metal workers; plumber pipe fitters; mechanics; medical lab technicians; and now, aviation technicians. VIPER ensures compliance on both sides as its business partners sign contracts with applicants that specify details of employment and required training needed for any position. The VIPER applicant then attends training to gain the necessary credentials for the chosen career.
Along with the A&P program, VIPER uses aviation in other ways to help veterans deal with acute stress that is often linked to unsuccessful transitions:
VIPER is not just a business idea to Kaiser, but a concept that is close to his heart: “I served as a U.S. Army Airborne Infantry Sniper in tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. During the two-and-a-half years deployed to combat with these soldiers, I was not prepared for the battle that was looming when we made it home. After valiantly serving their country, they exited the Army, like so many do, without any marketable skills. They were looking for a sense of purpose, meaningful employment, a chance to succeed. But, when my brothers in arms saw ending their lives as their only option, I felt defeated. A darkness settled over me and I knew something needed to change. My new purpose stared me in the face—to dedicate my energy to make sure this evil is stopped.”