My view: Veterans have to readjust to civilian life after war and service

By Harry Croft

By Sydney Savior

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, July 8 2014 12:21 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, July 8 2014 12:21 p.m. MDT

By all accounts, veterans have the capacity and should be able to effectively retrain themselves to operate in an environment other than that which they were accustomed to being successful.

Michelle Tessier, Deseret News

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On the backdrop of a sky filled with colorful fireworks and streets crowded with animated parades celebrating the Fourth of July, what emerges in the minds of many is the deliberation and decision of our founders to pen and defend the Declaration of Independence. That was pen-to-paper, and then the real work and battle had to begin to realize the landscape we now call the United States of America.

What comes to mind for others on the backdrop of commemorating July 4, 1776, an epic day in history, is the battle that rages on in Iraq. Veterans who have volunteered to fight, whether in the name of duty or honor, watch as nearly 12-years of grueling battle for groundbreaking democracy comes unraveled, seemly in the blink of an eye. Now veterans are in the fog on the return on investment for their battle wounds and scars.

In many ways, companies face a similar story in their effort to hire and train veterans to do a job, only to see their investment unravel in the form of high veteran attrition and turnover. While hiring a veteran is a patriotic thing to do, given veteran unemployment is at a rate higher than their civilian counterparts, the catch-22 is hiring has to be balanced with a business need.

According to the U.S. Chamber, the current trend among veterans is to change jobs twice within the first three years of civilian employment. Add to that attrition costs for a professional who quits averages $125,000 for up to 18 months’ salary. For hourly waged employees it averages a half-year pay. This has left companies in the fog on what to do to increase veteran satisfaction, productivity and retention.

It is widely known that the change from military to civilian life can prove quite challenging for many separating veterans. But oftentimes companies are unaware of what is necessary to onboard a veteran and retain them.

Simply put: Individuals who separate or retire from the military and return to civilian life exchange structured society for an unstructured mainstream society. They face a major change in their life situation; therefore, veterans are confronted with learning to acclimate to a change in culture and a new beginning in life and work.

In addition to a change in employment status, from employed to unemployed or underemployed and underpaid, veterans are challenged with extraordinary differences in culture. This culture change presents them with mental and emotional struggles, and for many this is coupled with a psychological struggle as well. This struggle is heightened for those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even with the Department of Defense’s newly revamped Transition Assistance Program (TAP), when a veteran returns to civilian culture they are wholly responsible for their own preservation and behavior. They must learn to re-socialize themselves and become fit for living in mainstream society. For companies, it only stands to reason understanding the stark contrast between the two cultures can prove equally as daunting when attempting to hire, re-integrate and sustain veterans in the workplace.

By all accounts, veterans have the capacity and should be able to effectively retrain themselves to operate in an environment other than that which they were accustomed to being successful. For both veterans and employers, this outcome remains foggy at best.

This is exactly why coming into the light requires more than recruiting and hiring veterans. It requires effective onboarding and organizational development. In the interest of being a viable part of the solution to employing, retaining and celebrating America’s veterans, companies need to develop an onboarding assimilation plan that gradually integrates veterans into the civilian work environment.

Starting with day one, the plan should focus on natural assimilation and inclusivity. Adopt best practices such as establishing affinity groups, peer support and mentoring. This connects veterans with someone who can empathize with their concerns while motivating and helping them adapt to and stay engaged in the work environment. Customize the diversity and employee assistance programs to include veteran-specific education and support. Retain the services of a military-relations professional to facilitate ease of transition.

The assimilation plan and its effective implementation are vital to veteran-employment, sustainability and companies coming out of the fog and into the light of lower attrition, increased veteran satisfaction and productivity.

Harry Croft is a renowned psychiatrist who has seen 7,000 veterans diagnosed with PTSD and is the co-author of "I Always Sit with My Back to The Wall: Managing Combat Stress and PTSD." Sydney Savior is a retired military officer, applied behavioral scientist and author of "Camouflage to Pinstripes: Learning to Thrive in Civilian Culture."

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