Employment Opportunities Off the Battlefield Help Veterans Combat Mental Health Challenges

People are most fulfilled when their career goals lead to financial security, personal identity, and meaningful contributions to community. For a significant number of individuals, many of whom are military veterans, nothing would be more fulfilling and mentally stimulating than simply landing a job. Although the unemployment rate for all veterans has declined in the last year to 6.6 percent making it in line with the overall unemployment rate, the jobless rate for returning veterans remains high. Working opportunities significantly improve the emotional well-being of veterans. Yet getting a job is one of the greatest challenges facing men and women today as they leave active duty.

Military veterans struggle with transition issues as they return to civilian life. Securing a career is one way to ensure that veterans successfully transition back into civilian life. More importantly, obtaining a meaningful, satisfying job is a milestone toward supporting a veteran’s emotional wellbeing. The connections between employment and good mental health and emotional resilience are documented facts. In William Julius Wilson’s book, When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor, one of the underlying perspectives is that unstable work and low income diminishes self-efficacy and confidence to achieve valued goals, characteristics that are in line with good mental health.

Returning service men and women face an unemployment rate of nine percent which is higher than non-veterans in the same demographic group. When the poor economy is factored in, recent veterans have even greater challenges finding work. The disparity is daunting for female veterans who experience unemployment at nearly twice the rate of their civilian counterparts and higher rates than male veterans. Underemployment is another growing issue that forces many veterans to accept low-to minimum-wage jobs that don’t capitalize on their skills. Without adequate attention to the problem, it will only become exacerbated as 22,000 members of America’s armed forces will be returning to civilian life, and their families, over the next several months.

Major reasons for the high unemployment among veterans include:

  • Higher disability rates among returning veterans make it more difficult to find jobs that can accommodate their needs.
  • Lack of civilian work experience makes them less likely to be hired, particularly in a slower economy, despite having many transferable and attractive qualities, including discipline, leadership and unique training.
  • Barriers with veterans being able to translate their valuable military experience to the private sector, despite many support programs to assist veterans in obtaining civilian jobs.

Despite these obstacles, there is a compelling business case for hiring veterans. They are among the most talented and skilled members of America’s workforce. Veterans have distinctive capabilities that make them great employees including performance-oriented backgrounds, strong work ethic, and an ability to thrive under pressure. They also have exceptional teamwork and problem solving skills that are transferrable to any work environment. Additionally, there are financial reasons to hire veterans, including a tax incentive of $9,600 per veteran employee.

A number of leading public and private sector entities have risen to the challenge by launching major initiatives to get veterans back into the civilian economy demonstrating not only their commitment to those who have sacrificed on behalf of our nation, but to their overall mental and physical well-being. First lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s “Joining Forces” initiative is confronting veterans employment challenges by promoting career development opportunities, highlighting the workforce potential of veterans and their spouses, educating employers, and working to reduce barriers to licensing and credentialing. Last year President Barack Obama challenged businesses to hire 100,000 veterans or their spouses by the end of 2013. Since then, businesses have hired and trained more than 380,000 veterans and military spouses. In the same spirit, 10 employers launched the “100,000 Jobs Mission,” a coalition now of 131 companies that committed to hiring 100,000 veterans within a decade, which has exceeded its goal within only three years. As a result, they have now doubled their target to 200,000 veteran jobs by 2020.

In all of the efforts to employ veterans, hiring alone is not enough. Many of these companies are not only focused on hiring military veterans, but helping them develop a lasting future by providing on-the-job training, support to meet their educational goals, and opportunities for advancement. Retention is key to building lasting futures, but traditional retention mechanisms are not enough. Companies must also foster efforts to bridge the great divide between military veterans and civilians in this country. Because less than 1 percent of Americans have served in the military, civilians are increasing dissociated from veterans, their families, and an understanding of their service. However, there has been no opportunity in the civilian workplace for veterans to openly discuss the impact that war has had on their lives despite the great sacrifices they’ve made on our behalf. That is why MHA-NYC has launched Stories We Carry, an initiative to bring veterans and civilians together in various settings to share war’s impact from every perspective. For far too long, veterans have shouldered the impact of war alone. It is time to transfer the weight of war back onto society, and employers hiring veterans are in a unique position to help make that happen. By bringing together veterans and civilian employees to openly share stories and misperceptions about war and military service, employee relationships can be enhanced and lead to deeper understanding, strengthened teamwork, and greater workplace retention and success.

MHA-NYC recognizes the importance and connections of gainful, meaningful employment and good mental health for veterans and their families. That is why in 2014 we are recognizing companies and leaders who are committed to employing and retaining veterans with the hope that we can spur others to follow their example. MHA-NYC’s 2014 gala on Wednesday, October 1, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, will pay tribute to companies dedicated to hiring veterans, and to the men and women who braved the battlefronts of Iraq and Afghanistan, and now must brave the challenges they face back home as civilians.

MHA-NYC is delighted to honor Gregory J. Fleming, President of Global Wealth Management Group of Morgan Stanley, a true philanthropic leader and longtime advocate for veterans, and Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta, Medal of Honor Recipient Operation Enduring Freedom, the first living person since the Vietnam War to receive the nation’s highest military award for heroism. MHA-NYC is also honored to have as their Dinner Chairs Frank Branchini, CEO of EmblemHealth, Ric B. Clark, CEO of the Brookfield Property Group, Kevin Dunleavy, Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, Laurence Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock and Duncan Neiderauer, CEO of the New York Stock Exchange.

We hope you will join us in October to recognize companies that have made a commitment to help veterans build lasting, healthy civilian futures and in doing so promote the value of their dedication to their colleagues and to the veterans’ community at-large. For more information, please visit www.mhaofnyc.org/gala2014.

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