WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hiring military veterans as they transition back into America’s communities is beneficial for businesses and the nation, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here on June 24.
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. spoke before the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Mission Transition Summit, where he encouraged businesses to hire veterans and their spouses and dispelled misconceptions connecting veterans and post-traumatic stress.
Winnefeld said there are many good reasons why American businesses should hire veterans.
“First, our people motivated by the right ideals,” Winnefeld said. “Our recruiting statistics show that most of these folks entered the military because they wanted to do something important.”
The vice chairman pointed to a recent survey that said people join the military for reasons of “pride, self-esteem, and honor, followed by a desire to better their lives, then duty and obligation to country and everything else you would imagine came after that.”
Winnefeld added, “I would sure want to hire someone mature enough at a young age to think of country before self. Americans can count on the fact that we’ve only added to that maturity over their time in uniform.”
Winnefeld said the military has invested in a diverse workforce, including additional education.
“In many cases,” he said, “these veterans offer technical expertise directly relevant to the job for which they’re applying. In other cases, they bring the ability to quickly absorb new training in a skill similar to what they might have been doing in the service.”
The vice chairman said veterans “just know how to learn,” and that service members gain highly sought-after skills and experiences during their time in the military.
“It’s a diverse workforce that made the cut to get into the military in the first place from a generation in which only three of 10 young people qualify,” the admiral said.
Character of veterans
Winnefeld cited more than 40 years of peer-reviewed academic articles from several fields suggesting several key attributes required for success in business and industry that the military passes onto its veterans. These include being entrepreneurial, assuming high levels of trust, being adept at skills that transfer across contexts and tasks, leveraging advanced technical training, advanced team-building, he said.
“Who wouldn’t want these characteristics in their workforce?” he asked. “And that’s before you consider the tax credits that are available under several programs under which you can hire a veteran.”
Winnefeld also lauded what he called the “vital” values veterans bring to any organization — values that include loyalty, integrity and teamwork.
“When asked about employees they’ve recently released, employers most often cite character flaws rather than gaps in skill as their rationale,” he said. “Well, we’re pretty good at ironing out character flaws in the military, yet many companies hire for a skill set listed in a vacancy announcement, not character.”
The vice chairman also cited a study by CEB aimed at capturing the value proposition of veteran employees.
“They found that veteran performance is 4 percent higher than for nonveterans, and that veterans experience 3 percent less turnover,” he told the audience.
“When you apply this to a company with a workforce of only 25 percent veterans,” Winnefeld added, “that translates into at least an extra percent or two in annual revenue.”
A survey conducted by the job-search company Monster notes that 99 percent of employers believe their veteran employees perform better than, or as well as, their nonveteran peers, the vice chairman noted.
Winnefeld said hiring veterans should not be looked upon as an act of charity, but rather as an act of patriotism, because it actually contributes to the military’s future.
Making the transition
The admiral also discussed what the military is doing to help its service members as they transition to civilian life.
“We recently redesigned our Transition Assistance Program … to provide contemporary, relevant, and mandatory information, tools, and training to ensure our members are prepared for civilian life,” he said. “This year, the services will begin implementing the Military Life Cycle model into their TAP programs, including grabbing on to whatever equivalency certifications that we can find.”
Military leaders recognized that simply briefing people as they walk out the door will not lead to their success, Winnefeld said. This model is designed to ensure service members’ careers are aligned with their civilian career goals and highlight things that they should address well before they separate, he explained.
Successful transition is ultimately an individual responsibility that requires planning and deliberate execution, the admiral said, and the military has made transition a leadership priority.
“I believe it’s going to take a while to get our program right,” he acknowledged, “and we definitely need your feedback — what we’re looking for is continuous improvement over time.”
But despite programs to assist with hiring transitioning service members, Winnefeld said, veterans still face stereotypes that can raise barriers to their ability to find employment.
“Many prospective employers are scared off by the misimpression that veterans suffer disproportionately from post-traumatic stress,” the admiral said. “Indeed, 46 percent of (human resources) pros surveyed by the Society for Human Resource Management cited PTS and mental health issues as potential barriers to hiring employees with military experience. What a shame.”
The reality, he said, is that while a small minority of veterans do experience post-traumatic stress and mild traumatic brain injury, their susceptibility to it is no greater than the average American.
Moreover, Winnefeld said, these conditions can be treated, and may well be better treated for some veterans than any other sector of society — although there is still much more that can be done.
“But there’s no data that confidently links PTS with a propensity for violence, so we need to dispense with that narrative,” he added.
Winnefeld encouraged all Americans to take an interest in successfully transitioning the nation’s veterans, who have regained their rightful place of dignity in America that they’d unfairly lost decades ago in the wake of the Vietnam War.
That dignity, Winnefeld said, is extended and leveraged in a “good and honorable and profitable way when these magnificent men and women come home and their talents are put to use in the private sector.”
He added, “I don’t use the phrase ‘give them a job’ — that sounds like a handout. I much prefer, ‘recognize their exceptional potential to make a solid contribution to the bottom line.’ ”
Hiring veterans is a “win-win” proposition, the vice chairman said — one that benefits the nation’s veterans as well as America’s businesses.