Many separating military members are surprised to find that there are potential employers out there that are actually resistant to hiring them. This realization can shake the foundations of the veteran’s world, especially if they’ve bought into the hype and come home expecting an enthusiastic, even preferential, welcome.
But what causes this resistance, even hostility? I’ve come to believe it is caused in part by the distorted view many civilians have of what a military veteran actually is. All veterans are not the same. For our purposes, there are basically four types. Thanks to movies and television, however, most civilians tend to only see two of them:
The “Rambo PTSD” vet – the guy who might shoot up the place, or hide in their room during the 4th of July fireworks show. It’s awesome to watch in the movies, but nobody wants the new guy blowing up stuff down at the job site.
The “Homeless Helpless” vet – broken, addicted to drugs and alcohol and beyond saving, but should still be pitied because they “gave so much.”
These two types of veterans are very real. What most people don’t realize, however, is these two types make up less than 10% of the veteran population - about 7.2%, according to my research - largely because so often they are the same person.
That leaves two types of veterans you normally don’t see or recognize every day:
The Wounded Warrior – has been getting a lot more attention lately, thanks to organizations like Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the Wounded Warrior Project. Many of these veterans are able to work, but may need to work from home. Around 10-12% of the total veteran population has a disability rating of 20% or higher.
The Invisible Vet – this is by far the largest group of veterans, what I call “the other 80 percent”. These are the veterans you work with, or ride the train with, or eat lunch next to every day - and you’d never know they served in the military unless they tell you. These are the people just working hard to support their families, and trying to fit back into a world they no longer understand. They get no financial support from the government; not even a retirement check unless they’ve served 20 years.
Now, any good military mind knows the first step of any operation is to gain accurate reconnaissance, so most active duty members try to do some investigation of the civilian world prior to their separation. But almost all of the information they get comes from either current military members, or high ranking former officers with lots of connections whose experience is very different from what they can expect for themselves.
As a result, the new “invisible vet” quickly realizes they are suffering from very faulty intelligence gathering. This puts doubt into all their assumptions, causing confusion, delay, diversion, and finally depression. Many won’t hit the wall until three to four years after leaving the military - long enough for them to go broke and come to believe they are defective, alone, and beyond help.
In other words, many of the problems veterans face come from the fact that they don’t realize they are misunderstood and continuously baited by the lip service they receive. Being honored day after day with sincere statements of “thank you for your service”, while at the same time being left to twist in the wind of financial insecurity, can literally become a form of mental torture. And all for the lack of a few basic personal development tools, and some accurate information about what the “real world” is really all about.
This group, this other 80 percent, is the one I belong to, and the one I’ve been called to advocate for. Collectively, we represent one of our nation’s largest untapped pools of talent, energy, ideas, and business leadership.
So I urge you to honor a veteran for who we truly are, not who the mass media makes us out to be. I urge you to sponsor a scholarship for a veteran to attend our CivilianBootCamp today. We have dozens of students already enrolled, and once we have sufficient metrics in hand, we‘ll approach the DoD to scale up the program. With your help, that will happen in the next year.
And if you’re a veteran-friendly employer or recruiter, I urge you to utilize the job broadcasting services of WeHireHeroes.US to gain direct access to a huge online network of veterans and their supporters. Your support is key to our success - and yours.
What’s important to us is not a free dinner or pat on the back. What we value is knowing we live in the kind of society worth putting our lives on the line to defend.
Excerpted from the new ebook, “From Warrior to Workforce: 10 Things Veterans and Employers Need to Know About Each Other”. Available on Amazon, but yours free for a limited time at CivilianBootCamp.com.