How Can We Make This A Memorable Memorial Day?
I can already see the crowds growing on the beach in front of our home. Later today, barbecues will fire up for that first summer party. Sailboats are offshore, many filled with friends and relatives who flew in for a beautiful Memorial Day in Los Angeles. My eyes rest on a small camp of homeless vets living behind the neighborhood grocery store. The cashiers complain how they often steal food and booze. Many of them are veterans who are dependent on the medical treatment at the VA in West Los Angeles.
Here in Los Angeles, surrounded by many of the nation’s wealthiest neighborhoods, approximately 4,800 homeless veterans spend every single day doing their best to survive. That figure represents a 57 percent increase in two years. Nationally, about 40,000 veterans have no place to live.
But, I am not here to get political, I would prefer to present my version of reality. Do take a good hard look at the difference between the promises many California candidates are making towards affordable housing and their actual track-record. The same can be said of hiring practices. There are many enlightened employers that have launched sizeable campaigns to recruit veterans such as Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton, BAE Systems and others. However, while large companies are often more veteran-friendly, the biggest segment of jobs continue to be with small business and mid-market companies. Here, bias often gets in the way of even entertaining interviews with ex-military employees.
One of my closest friends was CEO of an international recruitment firm. She launched a special service to help qualified employers get tax-credits and her firm provided extra on-boarding support with veterans. But, after six months of heavy effort, the programs was quietly closed. She was sharing her disappointments with me when I responded, “This is all about bias.”
I went on to share that our news media, which depends on negative angles for ratings, portrays the dark side of PTSD, spousal and drug abuse as well as anger issues. Many employers will smile at us and say this is a terrific idea. But inside, their bias quietly shelves any ideas of taking on the problems. The news media isn’t telling America that when we hire a veteran we are usually going to get someone who knows discipline, persistence, resilience, humility, and purpose. We hear another dark story about the small percentage that indeed has troubles.
My friend had actually referred a Major General into one of our programs. His name is Mel Spiese and this gentleman was in charge of the global training and development of US Marines for many years. During our work together, Mel decided to launch Leaders Can Be Made, a talent development organization that helps turn all employees into leaders. provides the very code of conduct that turned the US Marines into what TEC and McKinsey characterize as “the most effective leadership organization in the world.”
I strongly suggested that we produce a video for the home page on his website. Here’s why: When most private sector buying influences hear, “Major General with the marines,” they see the scary and bombastic portrayal of George Patton. I am sure employers want a frightening character like that bulldozing his way through their call center. In reality, Mel is softspoken, civilized, highly intellectual, and kind. That is what people see the moment they visit his site.
Human beings want to forget war as quickly as possible. This is one of the reasons our country is in a deplorable relationship in caring for the veterans that need help. How bad is it? One example is of the very wealthy family that deeded their land to the Veteran’s Administration in Los Angeles. That land was to be used exclusively for the medical care and housing for our veterans. But, much of that land was being rented out to large commercial tenants. It took years of lawsuits to achieve any improvement at all.
This state is about us. We are the ones firing up our barbeques and running to flash Memorial Day sales. We are the ones that roll up our windows when a homeless person reaches out for money. We are the ones sitting idly by as a drunk is nominated to take over the #1 job at the Veteran’s Administration.
So the least that we can do is help them work and help them back into our communities. We are the ones that can talk to hiring managers about the very bias that could cause any of us to overlook their value.
Let’s be candid about our nation’s thinking. Human beings tend to not want to think about the negative aspects of our reality for much time at all. That is the second reason our country is in a deplorable relationship with its veterans. We just lost our second director of the Veteran’s Administration. That’s usually greeted with a shrug. In Los Angeles, the family that deeded the land on which the Veteran’s Administration stands had to fight a bitter court battle to do the right thing. The deed stated the land was to be exclusively used for the housing, care and medical treatment of veterans. Instead, our own government was throwing mentally incapacitated veterans out on the streets and striking lucrative real estate leases to private enterprise.
So as we fire up those barbeques, race out of town towards the woods or the beach, run into stores to take advantage of those sales, I’m encouraging all of you to also give attention to the care and well being of your veterans.
How can you help?
Talk About It
One of the best places to talk is at work. Ask people around you in what they really think about hiring veterans. How can any bias be shifted? Because bias sits quietly in the dark shutting off progress.
When you encounter a veteran, talk to them. Find out where they served, what they gave to our country, and how they are living today. Become more open to helping them become better integrated into our community. We certainly don’t want to wait for the government to do it. Practice kindness and generosity.
Stephanie Klasky-Gamer, the President CEO of LA Family housing runs one of the most effective affordable housing organization in the country. She suggests that handing someone money is OK. But, we can do even more by talking to people who are less fortunate than us. There is a psychic drop off a cliff when someone falls on hard times. The rest of us act as if they don’t exist. This behavior produces even greater alienation.
Quite frankly, the worst we can do is to simply look the other way.
Haven’t we been doing that long enough?
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