Depending on who is reporting the numbers, veterans’ unemployment rates range from nearly 12.1 percent to 17 percent. Either way, these numbers far exceed the national unemployment rate. Hence, a vigorous push by lawmakers, the White House, and veterans’ interest groups to unveil initiatives to lower unemployment among veterans. This is great, right? Especially on the heels of the Department of Defense projected drawdown in Afghanistan of nearly 100,000 troops. Although it is widely known that the change from military to civilian life can prove quite challenging for many separating veterans, it is also recognized by many companies that the right reason to hire veterans is the acquisition of high quality talent such as, but not limited to:integrity, a bent toward diversity and inclusion, short learning curve, wide-ranging skills, strong management and leadership ability, teamwork affinity, and continuity in hard work.
But on the other hand , it could prove challenging to businesses that hire veterans, after the patriotic community appeal, photo ops, tax credits, and the novelty of doing the right thing fades away. As evidenced by high veteran unemployment and homelessness, preference and incentives only go so far.
So, it is not enough for companies to simply hire and show case their good and gainful deed of hiring veterans. Employers need to take into account productivity and sustainability of their new employees. You could equate this to a “green thing’ if it translates better. Because veterans, like non-veterans, are human capital, too; however, they tend to have an added layer of uniqueness unlike non-veterans that needs to be considered.
What is so unique about veterans that businesses need take into consideration? Simply put, individuals who separate or retire from the military and return to civilian life exchange a structured culture for an unstructured one. In particular, those returning to mainstream society after having spent decades of their lives in a military environment face a major change in their life situation. Consequently, veterans are faced with learning to adapt to a change in culture, and starting over in the workforce and lifestyle. So in addition to a change in employment status—from a military institution to corporate America, they are faced with extraordinary differences in culture.
Not only are they faced with the mental and emotional struggle of a culture change, but for many this is coupled with psychological struggles as well. These struggles are especially marked in those suffering Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). This is a sensitive issue because employers cannot ask a veteran if he or she has been diagnosed with either of these conditions, or any other disorder. Concern about the possibility of PTSD is part of the perceived challenge with veteran re-integration, particularly into the workplace, because of the misunderstanding, misperceptions and miscommunication about veterans that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Particularly, there is a perception that those who have served in any combat areasare likely to have PTSD and are prone to erratic and sometimes even violent behavior. Couple that with the sensationalism of the media, especially in the most recent news of a U.S. soldier who allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians and the JetBlue pilot that went berserk mid-air, and many companies worry about the safety of the workplace if veterans are hired.
What’s more, many of our most basic human needs—psychological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization are met by the institution of military. Even with the military’s provided Transition Assistance Program (TAP) in play, when a veteran returns to civilian culture they are wholly responsible for their own preservation and behavior and must learn to re-socialize themselves and become fit for living in mainstream society. So for companies (both management and fellow employees), it only stands to reason understanding the stark contrast between the two cultures can prove equally as daunting when attempting to hire, re-integrate and sustain veterans in the workplace.
By all accounts veterans possess the capacity and should be able to effectively retrain themselves to operate in an environment other than that which they were accustomed to being successful. But for many, both veterans and employers, this outcome remains elusive. This is precisely why simply hiring veterans is not enough. In the interest of being a viable part of the solution to veterans’ unemployment and homelessness, companies need to strongly consider developing a plan that gradually assimilates veterans into the civilian work environment. That plan and its effective implementation are vital to long term sustainability and productivity of a veteran on the job.
Harry Croft, M.D is a renowned psychiatrist who has seen 7,000 veterans diagnosed with PTSD and Co-author of I Always Sit with My Back to The Wall: Managing Combat Stress and PTSD. Visithttp://www.mybacktothewall.com/
Sydney Savion, Ed.D, a retired military officer, applied behavioral scientist and author of Camouflage to Pinstripes: Learning to Thrive in Civilian Culture. Visit http://camouflagetopinstripes.com.