From Forbes Magazine 24th February 2014
Companies Need To Help America’s Military Veterans Get Back To Work
By TIM MCCLAIN
On a hot Annapolis afternoon in the summer of 1966, I stood alongside hundreds of other young men on the grounds of the U.S Naval Academy.
I raised my right hand and took an oath, swearing that I would “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”” No one who takes an oath like that ever knows what awaits him or her. But it felt good, felt right, to take that oath, to make that commitment to this country, its freedom and its people.
My own military career is long over. I’ve watched the members of a new generation rise to the challenge of supporting and defending America. Now, the time has come for the rest of us to rise to the challenge of helping veterans successfully transition from military to civilian life.
Twelve U.S. service veterans commit suicide every single day. That’s unacceptable. Others struggle with depression, bankruptcies and other crippling issues. Unemployment among veterans is high, standing at 17.4 percent in late 2013 among veterans 18-24 years old. The reasons for these troubles vary; every veteran has his or her own story, but many face common challenges that we, as a society, should do more to address.
Leaving the military can be a much more dramatic lifestyle change than moving and changing jobs. Compared to the civilian world, the culture, values and organizing principles of the military are different – more formal and hierarchical, with extensive rules governing personal and professional conduct. In a way, the military’s structure provides comfort; you know where things are and how the system operates.
When you leave that regimented world, you’re on your own. This is a particular challenge for newly discharged veterans who entered the service at age 18 and spent their first adult years in this environment. For them, picking a daycare, applying for a home loan, or conducting a job search can be daunting. Many veterans are also functioning with health challenges, like physical injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of their service.
Even simple interactions can require a change in mindset. I oversee Humana’s Veterans Hiring Initiative, which has led to the hiring of more than 1,500 veterans and military spouses, in part as a response to President Obama’s call for businesses to help address veteran unemployment. One veteran we hired, a former U.S. Army Fire Control Platoon Leader, recounted unexpected issues she faced in transitioning to corporate America, such as how to write an email. As opposed to the “Dear Sir” salutations she wrote in the military, she felt disoriented when she received emails with smiley faces from people she didn’t know.
The government’s Joining Forces program – which assists in the hiring efforts, as well as education, wellness and other initiatives – provides a necessary base to ease the transitions of these brave men and women. Now it is up to the rest of us – especially business leaders – to carry the torch.
One step companies can take to help transition veterans is to create an internal support organization. At Humana, we formed the Veterans Network Resource Group, which serves as a clearinghouse, information center and connecting point for veterans, companywide.
We’ve also taken inspiration from the Department of Veterans Affairs and other organizations that are taking steps to create a community of care around veterans and their families, such as the Augusta Warrior Project, Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities and Charlotte Bridge Home.
However, the truth is that none of these are enough to give veterans the support required.
Quite simply, they need you – your talent, compassion, network, resourcefulness, patriotism and help. Veterans often struggle to ask for help, even when they deserve it. So, I will.
If you know any recently discharged veterans, talk to them about the transition process. Thank them for their service. Ask how it’s going – be sincere – and if there’s anything you can do. Do it.
Keep your eyes open for job applicants with military experience. For some roles, finding the right candidate is as much about qualities – like leadership, dedication and perseverance – as qualifications. If your organization doesn’t have a veterans hiring program, ask about starting one.
Of course, you have no obligation to do any of this, just like veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan had no obligation to take an oath to protect our country. But they did it anyway, knowing the decision might cost them their lives.
I’m not asking you to put your life on the line or take an oath. All I’m asking is that we acknowledge that these veterans have shown us their dedication to this country. It’s time we showed them ours.