There are currently thousands of homeless veterans on the streets of American cities, and thousands more struggle with unemployment. The reasons range from a higher instance of drug and alcohol abuse, incorrect treatment of/or failure to diagnose, service related injury such as PTSD, severe anxiety, and poverty. The VA, along with an executive order by the President, has stamped out a plan to get every veteran into a home no later than 2015. They are seeing success, with as much as a 33% reduction of homeless veterans on the streets since 2010, but are miles away from their goal and their deadline. The problem is, they are seeking answers, but have failed to ask the right questions.
There are a slew of companies who are dedicated to helping the employment of veterans. This seems as though the easiest sell imaginable. The product, on paper at least, is a dedicated professional who has a certain skill set that allows companies to instantaneously inject their organization with all the qualities that we have come to know military members stand for. In one hire you can build a dedicated work force, increase productivity, demonstrate a greater work ethic, instill discipline, etc…, all with the added benefit of feeling good about your company for hiring someone who has sacrificed for their country. Why, then, with all these companies trying to get veterans jobs, is there such a high rate of unemployment and homelessness among veterans?
The fact of the matter is, getting veterans hired is big business. The companies who assist in helping veterans find jobs are actually paid by the companies who eventually do the hiring. This creates a significant conflict of interest as the paying client ultimately will have a stronger voice than the veteran or the supplying business will not be in business for long. Ultimately, the situation becomes one of a veteran in need is supplied with an answer that may be completely incorrect. The skill set, or ability, or even desire, of the veteran seeking the job is all too often ignored or mismatched. The fear here is that companies will stop seeing veterans as an added benefit to their organization, but rather will see them as a fit that is forced with all the subtlety of a 155mm gun. All too often, the veteran is left back on the street seeking employment and the company is again left with a void, and now, a bad taste in their mouth.
The question that the president and the VA should be asking, therefore, is why veterans fail in their civilian jobs. The answer is that of assimilation. Vets are put in to organizations that they are poorly suited for, fail to assimilate, and therefore end up quitting. This can lead to a feeling of hopelessness and that they don’t belong. This hopelessness, combined with a propensity towards risky behavior, creates a self-destructive path. The solution for this is a complicated one and certainly not something that can be done by the end of 2015 as outlined in the previous plan. A good start would be a concerted effort to regulate the for-profit organizations that treat vets as inventory paid by clients, and encourage the non-for-profit or VA based organizations. Even that, though, would only scratch the surface.
As an outspoken veteran, I’m often thanked and people will say things like, “What can I do to help?” My answer is, and always has been, very simple. If you see a new person at work, be kind to them. If you see a job opening, don’t tell your HR director to seek out one of the for-profit headhunters, but rather, if you have a veteran in your office, see if she has a friend who would fit the role. Most importantly, remember that veterans are just people who made a choice to serve, and, more often than not, they also made the choice to stop serving and are trying to fit in. Treat them just like you would want to be treated. Who knows, these things might just lead to better job satisfaction for you, too.