How The Private Sector Is Shaming Government In Veteran Integration

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Katie Frates Editor-in-chief of The Daily Walkthrough
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Veterans Day brings the nation together to celebrate the individuals who give up the comforts of home to protect and serve America. Unfortunately, that celebration also highlights the failures of the federal government to help veterans when they return from war.

As of 2013, 8.8 percent of the veterans who have served since September 2001 are unemployed. But generous government programs designed to help have often backfired, spreading resentment and becoming entangled in bureaucracy. (RELATED: Veterans Affairs Ready To Punish 1,000 Employees During Restructuring)

Reports have come out over the last few years detailing the persistent issues the government faces when it tries to hire veterans. These reports show how the system has become increasingly complex and bloated– so much so, that it has started to impact work environments. The issues are creating distrust and tension not only between employees and the government, but also between veteran and non-veteran employees.

The U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), an agency that oversees proper hiring and promoting practices in the government, released an August 2014, report, “Veteran Hiring in the Civil Service: Practices and Perceptions,” criticizing Department of Defense’s veteran-hiring practices. MSPB raised concerns that the laws and regulations are “extremely complicated,” and “invite misunderstandings, confusion, perceptions of wrongdoing, and possibly actual wrongdoing.”

MSPB conducted a survey in which 6.5 percent of respondents said they observed inappropriate favoritism towards veterans, and 4.5 percent reported observing a violation of veterans’ preference rights. The survey also showed that employees who witnessed the violations were less engaged, and more likely to want to leave their agencies.

“If Congress opts to make changes to the laws in the future,” MSPB wrote, “it may be beneficial for congress to consider how complex the system has become and the potential advantages of simplifying the system.”

The private sector has simplified that system, banking that no hiring system should foster resentment toward the very people it seeks to help.

Businesses view veterans as valuable assets. The skills they learn while serving — discipline, leadership, integrity and the ability to work in a team – are essential to productivity and efficiency.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has a personal passion for helping veterans, inspired by meeting Sgt. 1st Class Leroy Petry. Petry is a recipient of the Medal of Honor, earned for throwing a live grenade to save two other soldiers. That selfless decision cost him his right hand. Starbucks promised in 2013 to hire 10,000 veterans and spouses by 2018, and according to Starbucks spokeswoman Jaime Lynn Riley, the company has already hired over 1,000 veterans and spouses.

“We’ve already hired over 1,000 veterans and military spouses, and we have plans to double that number next year,” Riley said. “We want this to be just the start of the conversation with our nation’s veterans.

“We will continue to work towards finding the best use of the leadership, skills and values of the men and women who have served our country in our businesses and communities.

“To do right by our veterans, we have to recognize what they have accomplished and understand the skills and values and discipline they have acquired,” Riley said. “All of which will benefit businesses and communities in America.”

Eleven companies in 2011 started the “100,000 Jobs Mission,” which aims to hire 100,000 veterans by 2020. With over 170 companies, it is the largest private sector coalition. By the end of September 2014, the coalition had hired 190,046 veterans and doubled its goal to 200,000 by 2020.

Disney introduced the “Heroes Work Here” initiative in 2012 to hire at least 1,000 veterans by 2015, and has already exceeded that goal. Walmart has hired over 26,000 veterans through its “Welcome Home Commitment” pledge to offer a job to a veteran in the first 12 months off active duty.

It’s not just corporations supporting veterans in the private sector. Individuals are stepping up to create organizations to help veterans and their families. Often, these individuals are able to help veterans faster and more efficiently than the government.

Karen Guenther is a Marine Corps wife who in 2004 co-founded the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit organization specializing in providing immediate financial support to injured veterans and their families. Semper Fi Fund helps with costs that would typically be out-of-pocket, like home and car modifications to accommodate handicap needs, travel expenses for family, and mortgage payments. The organization has provided more than $98 million to over 12,600 veterans and their families.

Bonnie Carroll founded the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) in 1992 after her husband, Brig. Gen. Tom Carroll, died in an Army C-12 plane crash. The program offers a 24-hour, seven days a week peer-to-peer support system that includes grief counselling, support networks, seminars and a Good Grief camp for children who have lost parents.

When it comes to helping America’s veterans, less really is more.

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Editor’s Note: The author has a parent who is a Starbucks partner.