“The returning warrior may not realize it, but he has acquired an MBA in enduring adversity and a PhD in resourcefulness, tenacity and the capacity for hard work.” – Steven Pressfield
The concept of ‘veteran’ is usually associated with honor, but in some cases it may carry a stigma. Finding work after leaving the military can be frustrating for individuals who feel employers do not understand their value, associating their service with a stigmatizing view of PTSD. An individual I interviewed said the following:
“Nothing was more demoralizing than trying to find work with a military resume… the literacy of the general population to reading military, they all read it as a PTSD case.”
Embittered and shocked at how difficult it was to find employment, this individual took certain things off of his resume hoping to reduce the perceived stigma, minimizing his deployment to Afghanistan to the point where it was not readily visible.
Beyond stigma, civilian employers often do not know how to interpret military work experience. The military has a very mobile culture creating a suspicious resume with a large number of different jobs listed. This is a positive thing in the military because it means the individual is being promoted, but in civilian life it looks as if the individual cannot hold down a job.
The civilian-military gap in experience is so vast, one participant quipped:
“…there were times I thought to myself jokingly that it would have been better if I lived in my parents basement and played videogames for five years, at least then somebody would have understood what I had done.”
Experiential gap aside, civilians often fail to realize the value veterans can offer:
“In my mind, I was thinking, ‘civilians are stupid’… a proven leader under high stress with the ability to manage finances, resources, motivate people, make hard decisions, and people didn’t want to hire me.”
When asked for recommendations on what can be done to help reintegrate veterans into civilian life, one participant replied with the most brilliant answer: “we need to think of veterans as military alumni.”
The word ‘alumni’ has the connotations of prestige derived from the skills an individual has acquired with a particular organization. The word ‘veteran’ has the highly regarded connotations of honor and sacrifice. But honor and sacrifice may not seem like enough for an employer who has stigmatizing perceptions of PTSD and wants maximum return on investment, failing to understand the value veterans can offer.
The skills derived from military training and on-the-job experience are unparalleled in civilian life. ‘Hiring a vet’ should not be seen as an act of charity; organizations that claim they ‘hire veterans’ in the same way the claim they are ‘going green’ are missing the point. Military alumni are rare. They are highly skilled in discipline, leadership, teamwork, functioning in high pressure environments, and accomplishing the mission at all costs. It would be a privilege to have military alumni in any civilian organization.
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