SOUTHFIELD, MICHIGAN - Almost a third of U.S. veterans in civilian jobs with war injuries hide them from employers and many former soldiers downplay their military service to get along with co-workers, according to a new study by the Center for Talent Innovation.
Minority veterans are more uneasy at work than whites, the survey said. More than 40 percent of Hispanic veterans said they try to mask their experience to avoid being judged as gun-loving or aggressive. About 57 percent of working veterans don’t aspire to move up in their jobs; 39 percent of those who do feel stalled.
U.S. companies from Capital One Financial Corp. to Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have hired millions of men and women returning from wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan in the last decade. The Obama administration has added hiring tax incentives of up to $9,600 per person. The veteran unemployment rate — at 3.9 percent in October — is at the lowest since 2008 and well below the national average of 5 percent.
“It’s quite a culture shock to move from the military to the civilian world,” said Linda Huber, chief financial officer of Moody’s Corp., who rose to captain while in the U.S. Army from 1980 to 1984. “Veterans can be very careful about saying too much about their status.”
Thirty percent of recruiting budgets at U.S. companies now fund programs to bring in veterans, according to CTI, a New York-based nonprofit that advises companies on diversity, citing Military Times data. About 21 million veterans work in the U.S., including 6.5 million from the first and second Gulf Wars and 9.2 million who served in Vietnam, Korea and World War II, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Roughly 32 percent of the veterans surveyed by CTI had a war-related injury or disability.
Women are faring worse than men, particularly among the most recent Gulf War veterans. Unemployment for women veterans overall was 5.4 percent in October, according to BLS data. For the 727,000 women who are veterans of the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, unemployment was 7.2 percent last month, compared to 4.1 percent for male veterans of those wars.
Veterans often don’t stay with their first employer, according to a 2014 survey by Institute for Veterans and Military Families and VetAdvisor. About 28 percent said they lasted six months or less in their first job and another 16.3 percent remained only seven to 12 months. CTI did its study in June and July of this year among 1,022 U.S. military veterans who are now working in full time salaried positions.
Some companies are focused on keeping the workers they train. Prudential Financial Inc., the second-largest U.S. life insurer, offers internships for enlisted military personnel to work toward an entry-level full-time job at the company. Retention has been about 75 percent, with 88 interns hired and another 50 in the pipeline, the company said.
“There are a raft of stigmas and stereotypes that go along with being a veteran, some not positive, so people are reticent, “said Charles Sevola, Prudential’s vice president of veterans initiatives, who left the military in 1990 after serving as a U.S. Army communications officer. Prudential’s program includes mentoring and other veteran-specific resources, he said.
Capital One has a human resources team focused on military hires and providing support for veterans that are entering the workforce, Tatiana Stead, a spokeswoman, said in an email. The company committed $4.5 million over three years as a partner with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation for the “Hiring 500,000 Heroes” initiative.
On Memorial Day 2013 Wal-Mart launched a veterans hiring program that has helped hire 110,000 employees, including 12,000 who have since been promoted, according Kory Lundberg, a company spokesman. Any veteran discharged since Memorial 2013 has a guaranteed job offer, he said. On the U.S. Memorial Day this year, the retailer committed to hire another 250,000 veterans by 2020. The company offers career counseling as part of the focus on matching veterans with the right jobs.
Moody’s Huber said veterans are starting to benefit from a broader push for workplace diversity and may become more visible. “We had a women’s network, a multicultural network and an LGBT network before we had a veteran’s network,” said Huber, who provided executive sponsorship to create that group in 2013.
“I’ve often said I’m a little more in the closet about being a veteran,” she said. “It’s pretty obvious that I’m female.” Huber was with the 7th Infantry Division and had special training to jump out of planes.
Almost two-thirds of CTI survey respondents said they lack the sense of purpose in their civilian jobs that they found in the military. That’s key to understanding them, said John Muckelbauer, staff counsel for Veterans of Foreign Wars, a group with 1.7 million members around the world. Soldiers have to get used to the lower intensity, he said.
“On paper, they are very marketable and most employers jump at the chance to hire them,” Muckelbauer said. “But once they’re in the door, some find it more difficult to properly assimilate.”