Almost a third of U.S. veterans in civilian jobs hide their war injuries from employers and many downplay their military service to get along with co-workers, according to a new study by the Center for Talent Innovation.
Minority veterans are more uneasy at work than whites, the survey said. More than 40 percent of Hispanic veterans said they try to mask their experience as soldiers to avoid being judged as gun-loving or aggressive. About 57 percent of working veterans don’t aspire to move up in their jobs; 39 percent of those who do feel stalled.
U.S. companies from Capital One Financial Corp. to Wal-Mart Stores have hired millions of men and women returning from wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan in the last decade, prodded by Obama administration tax incentives of up to $9,600 per person. The veteran unemployment rate — at 3.9 percent in October — is at the lowest since 2008 and well below the national average of 5 percent.
“It’s quite a culture shock to move from the military to the civilian world,” said Linda Huber, chief financial officer of Moody’s Corp, who rose to captain while in the U.S. Army from 1980 to 1984. “Veterans can be very careful about saying too much about their status.”
Thirty percent of recruiting budgets at U.S. companies now fund programs to bring in veterans, according to CTI, a New York-based non-profit that advises companies on diversity. About 21 million veterans work in the U.S., including 6.5 million from the first and second Gulf Wars and 9.2 million who served in Vietnam, Korea and World War II, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Veterans often don’t stay with their first employer, according to a 2014 survey by Institute for Veterans and Military Families and VetAdvisor. About 28 percent said they lasted six months or less in their first job and another 16.3 percent remained only 7 to 12 months. CTI did its study in June and July of this year among 1,022 U.S. military veterans who are now working in full time salaried positions.
Some companies are focused on keeping the workers they train. Prudential Financial Inc., the second-largest U.S. life insurer, offers internships for enlisted military personnel to work toward an entry-level full-time job at the company. Retention has been about 75 percent, with 88 interns hired and another 50 in the pipeline, the company said.
“There are a raft of stigmas and stereotypes that go along with being a veteran, some not positive, so people are reticent, “said Charles Sevola, Prudential’s vice president of veterans initiatives, who left the military in 1990 after serving as a U.S. Army communications officer. Prudential’s program includes mentoring and other veteran-specific resources, he said.
Moody’s Huber said veterans are starting to benefit from a broader push for workplace diversity and may become more visible. “We had a women’s network, a multi-cultural network and an LGBT network before we had a veteran’s network,” said Huber, who provided executive sponsorship to create that group in 2013.
“I’ve often said I’m a little more in the closet about being a veteran,” she said. “It’s pretty obvious that I’m female.” Huber was with the 7th Infantry Division and had special training to jump out of planes.
Almost two-thirds of CTI survey respondents said they lack the sense of purpose in their civilian jobs that they found in the military. That’s key to understanding them, said John Muckelbauer, staff counsel for Veterans of Foreign Wars, a group with 1.7 million members around the world. Soldiers have to get used to the lower intensity, he said.
“On paper, they are very marketable and most employers jump at the chance to hire them,” Muckelbauer said. “But once they’re in the door, some find it more difficult to properly assimilate.”
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