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By David Harder on May, 25, 2015

Why We Are Not Hiring Veterans

As we complete the Memorial Day Holiday take a moment to consider that all of us could do more to support veterans.

After World War II, veterans were treated with a sense of honor and respect that inspired an entire country to support their return to civilian life. But, America’s growing ambivalence towards war has given us a contemporary culture where we send people off to battle and to varying degrees turn our backs upon their return. I have come to believe that most Americans don’t want to be bothered with the problem, by extension, we want to forget it exists.

The results to our culture are terrible. Throughout our country we find a high number of homeless veterans who are disabled but given just the minimal amount of care to survive.

Right now, my biggest concern is this deep seated and disconnected bias that exists in so many hiring managers towards hiring Veterans. Most will not voice this bias but the results speak for themselves. Veterans who have left the military in the last two years have an unemployment rate of over 15%. Millions more are on their way.

We can look towards our media for building an image of Veterans that is shameful indeed.

Here is a typical story from the week:

“Blackouts, flashbacks, night terrors, and sudden rages are common among veterans; suicide, alcoholism, and drug use have surged. PTSD has been cited as a factor in many acts of vets running amok.”

Do we have problems with individuals that have been injured mentally and physically during war?

Absolutely. From my point of view, it doesn’t matter whether we stood by passively or actively supported war, we have a moral responsibility to take care of them.

However, the vast majority of veterans represent one of the finest segments of our labor pool. They are well trained. They have been prepared to deal with the worst life could dish out to them. They are disciplined. Most of them know the meaning of good manners and honor and integrity.

Unfortunately, goodness usually doesn’t equate to interesting stories within the media.

A few years ago, one of my best friends as CEO of a large recruitment firm developed an initiative to help veterans get civilian jobs. Her company offered free skill screening and assistance in processing the tax credits attached to hiring veterans. I promoted the service to my clients. Everyone thought it was a good idea, at least on the surface. But despite all of the good marketing, the program didn’t work out.

Finally, I called her and said,

“I know your heart is in the right place. I know this is the moral thing to do. But, the images and messages media puts out about veterans is so one-sided and scary, I believe many employers are afraid of taking a risk that is being blown out of proportion.”

There are many large diversity-serious organizations like Chase and WalMart that are running significant veteran hiring initiatives.

And yet, the greatest opportunities lay in inspiring all employers to look for the good in hiring veterans.

As we go into a weekend that is meant to honor the fallen, I am encouraging all of you who read this message to check in with yourself and take a look. Consider how you can honor the living.

I am not suggesting that we put veterans to the front of the line. No, the spirit of this note is to bring up bias because bias is usually an automatic response. Bias flourishes when we are disconnected to it.

Perhaps we can begin by answering a few questions:

If you or a colleague hires employees, have you unwittingly developed bias about hiring veterans?

If your organization isn’t actively engaged in attracting veterans, what can you do to inspire them to improve?

How can you help one veteran make a successful return to civilian life?

These seem like valuable questions.

For in reality, we will have to live with each other for many years to come.

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