In summary, vets are a special breed. They have all the mentalities that good companies want. Tenacity, intuition, reliability, capability, responsibility, leadership and are part of a culture built on getting the job done. They are smart and they are serious. Seriously, why are all of our vets having such a hard time finding jobs? Perhaps it’s you.
The truth is, and this is why I write so much about fellow vets, many of us are having a hard time. Many civilians don’t understand us. People who have served are an enigma for many. They exist in contrast to many American values; an individualist society which champions personal expression, civil liberties, and personal financial, career, and political achievement, but that is built upon the presence of a class of warriors who, themselves enjoy little privilege to express themselves, have forgone many liberties, and have delayed their opportunities for the forms of achievement which society celebrates. In its extreme, we are society which cherishes our freedoms, luxuries, and security, but require, from time-to-time, volunteers who willingly sacrifice themselves in the greatest way imaginable. It’s a contradiction that I don’t think many have truly explored.
What’s more, the sheer presence of a veteran is becoming a rarer and rarer thing. Consider many years ago when our parents would tell stories about their fathers who fought in WWII in the Pacific, or their grandfather who battled in Europe. Those were truly different times. According the United States Census Bureau, the number of U.S. armed forces personnel who served in World War II between Dec. 1, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946 was around 16 million people. For the period since 9/11, the number of US Service members is around 10 million with around 2.5 million actually having served either in Iraq or Afghanistan. These statistics sound comparable until you think about the fact that the War on Terror has gone on for more than twice, nearly three times as long as World War II for the Americans. The 1940 US census calculated a total population of 132,164,569 citizens. Today that number is estimated to be more than 312,000,000. That means that the odds of you running into, or even being a veteran in 1945 was around 12%. Nearly 1 in every 8 people was a veteran. Given also that at that time the entire population was also directed toward the war effort, it’s reasonable to say that there was no one without an understanding of the military and a passion for caring for the returning war fighter. Today, however, the story is different. Considering all living veterans today, of any period, you will find a veteran population of about 22 million, that’s roughly 7% of the total population of the United States and only 3% having served since 9/11. You also don’t see a culture that is wired around service towards ending the war effort. Few work for the defense industry or toward any activity that has a real involvement in the wars. War bonds also aren’t a thing. No one ever planted victory gardens in hopes of bringing home the troops. No one is recycling bacon grease or rationing gasoline in hopes that it will help us fight the terrorists. Realistically, nothing has changed much for the average American that one could really say relates to military activities. In truth it’s an afterthought or a political stance. Many citizens have opinions, but few have ownership. The truth of the matter, people who have any active role, veterans in particular, are getting rarer and rarer. One the one hand, it’s a sign of a peaceful society with few actual problems. One the other hand, its the pattern of a culture that has lost touch with the warrior subculture which shoulders the burden of American security without experiencing many of the rewards of it. This is a pattern which will continue in the future. By 2050, expect that the entire US veteran community will be less than 3% of the total population. Imagine, if you will, what this will mean for veteran benefits in the ballot boxes of the future when they are an even smaller minority of the voting population than they are today.
Frankly, people don’t associate with veterans that often. It isn’t often an intentional discrimination. It’s just much rare to find one than you think, as I have shown. Their rarity today is something of a novelty, owing a degree of admiration, a great deal of curiosity, often suspicion and fear, a few times disdain, but otherwise ignored because they are so severely misunderstood. This misunderstanding, in my opinion, comes from that break where no one really knows veterans. When people don’t really have any first hand experience with a veteran they fall back on stereotypes. There are many stereotypes which define us. Many of these I focused on because they are positive and help further the image of the United States warrior who has left the service. The truth is, no one perfectly captures all positive qualities of military service, but for the most part, there are so many good qualities which have been imbued into the character of a veteran of the United States. Many, if not most of qualities we have in common, are fundamental assets to employers. The pledge to support veterans is so strong that, for more than a decade thousands of companies have joined in numerous campaigns to hire veterans.
Yet you still aren’t hiring us. I wrote this post, if not just to show those individuals with hiring capacity some of the benefits that come attached to hiring veterans, but to address the fact that, in spite of so many companies’ very public advertising toward campaigns supporting returning troops, vets aren’t being hired.
Since the slump in 2009 and the massive unemployment that followed, veterans have led in unemployment for reasons I can only guess. I assume much of it is based on unfair biases I have faced since getting out myself. I’ve often heard things like, “You’re so articulate for veteran” or “I don’t know, I just sort of expected you be, like, crazy hard core or something.” Many people asked if I had been shot at, or even killed someone. I’ve also been asked in interviews if I had ever been in combat, which I don’t know someone at Chase’s local bank branch would need to know for a standard sales position, and some have even asked if I have ever had an actual job before. I’m not sure what an actual job constitutes for most people many of the people I interviewed for after college. I guess my experiences running a telecommunications service team of 11 technicians and responsible for more than $3 million dollars in gear and equipment for what amounted to a four hundred person company didn’t count as an actual job. In college I even had to correct a professor who threw out the old joke when asked what an oxymoron was. She replied, “Military Intelligence” to the laughter of a roomful of 19 year olds still living in their childhood homes. To say “corrected” is probably not the appropriate term, but everyone in the room knew better than to make such an unfair generalization again.
“Ma’am, are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 ft/s for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction as well as differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)
Perhaps people do view that, because one forgoes college as a means to seek higher education, they are uneducated, or lack higher order cognitive processes. Perhaps media portrayal in movies, video games, and TV has simply just watered us down to two conflicting views as either a brave knight running off to do justice and make sacrifice, or of the radical bloodthirsty and murderous barbarian, too stupid to know when they are being used, both of which are completely unfit for the corporate world. Perhaps, as USA today back April of last year, followed by Forbes, have reported, there is more going on.
Many, apparently as many as one in three, employers consider the possibility of post-traumatic stress disorder to be an impediment to hiring a veteran, according to a survey report by the Society for Human Resource Management. Since it is illegal to ask about mental health status during an interview many just take the safe route and assume there is a problem. Considering that as low as 7% of post-9/11 veterans are estimated to be experiencing PTSD it’s a far cry from a necessary precaution. I’ve read that some of the reasons for this fear are that there is a fear of safety, owing to the fear that a veteran with PTSD might “go postal” and commit an office shooting or other acts of violence. I’m just going to be honest, this is as ignorant as not hiring a black guy because he was probably in a gang.
“There’s stigma attached to PTSD and traumatic brain injury and other hidden disabilities that people may assume soldiers have when they’re leaving the military,” says Nancy B. Adams, branch chief at the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command. “They may always have that at the back of their mind.”
Others consider that in the military, everyone is conditioned to follow orders and lack the ability to think for themselves. I hope I’ve shown this to be a major fallacy as service people are regularly given complex problems with limited resources where their creative thinking and ability to solve unusual problems are showcased. Sadly, the effectiveness of a Marine Corps logistics chief saving her squadron more than three million dollars over the course of a fiscal year, rarely makes the local news real when much more sensationalized media is available.
Lastly, there is the fact that you probably have no idea what a tactical data network specialist is or the qualifications and capabilities of Platoon Sergeant. What is the difference between a Major and Chief Petty Officer? Are they the same? Does it matter? What’s a DD-214? It’s all foreign jargon and no one knows what any of this nonsense means. There are even classes that transitioning veterans must take to communicate their value to hiring managers who don’t know how to read the résumé. I don’t really blame civilians for this. It isn’t really anyone’s fault, but just owes to the fact that there are realistically so very few veterans out there, relative to the number of people who know anything about them. That said, the best way to solve this problem might not be for you to learn what all the military lingo is. Perhaps the best thing to do is ask someone on your staff with military experience to decode it and see what kind of diamond lies beneath the rough of a sheet of paper which will determine their fate. Don’t have any veterans on staff to help you out with this? Oh… You should probably think about this Veterans Day.
So the next time Veterans Day rolls around, I hope you don’t just give the ceremonial greeting, “Thank you for your service.” Do something for them that they can’t do for themselves. Give a résumé or application that runs over your desk a second look, or a third. There is nothing sadder in the world we live in today than seeing someone who gave up four years of their lives of their life for the reward of a handshake and a pat on the back by people who don’t honestly respect them enough to want to work with them.
Don’t worry about me. I’m proud to say that after many employment struggles trying to get noticed after college, I am happily employed doing something I love where I can feel my experience is valued and crucial to the work I am doing. In my spare time, I am fortunate enough to get also get to write and share my experiences and assistance for other veterans for free thanks to patronage from the crowdsourcing platform Patreon. It let’s followers and supporters donate to on a recurring basis so that I can continue helping get the good word out about veterans. If you did enjoy this post, please consider pledging your support through the link I’ve provided at the bottom of this post. If you don’t want to go that far, please like, share and comment to get the word out about ways you can help veterans on this Veterans Day.
The last section I was going to write about in this series was “Triumph over adversity.” I’m not going to write that section though. We all know that the military is made of winners. They haven’t lost a battle since Korea. Wars may be lost if the politics are incorrectly managed, but that failure isn’t owed to those who fought them. We all know that the military produces people who are capable of overcoming adversity, but once they get out, they are alone. Their adversity is now and the military doesn’t prepare them for a society that doesn’t understand them, nor value their abilities. They are without the collective network of support one receives in the military. Now they are in the realm where they are judged based, not on their actions, but on current politics and media perception. Frankly, they don’t need your thanks. They need your support. They need your connections. They need to be introduced into your networks. They need to be invited to the opportunities extended to others. They need you to give them a job.
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