Hiring veterans is neither an act of charity nor patriotism, but a smart choice, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told business leaders at the start of the fifth annual “Business Steps Up: Hiring Our Heroes” event held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., Nov. 15.
As keynote speaker for the event, Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. said he was there to “kick off what is a very important topic – how to best serve the brave men and women who served our nation in uniform who are home looking for work,” and how to best serve business people who want to hire quality people for their organizations.
“One of centerpieces of the Hiring Our Heroes campaign was to create a movement. Thanks to those efforts, 85,000 veterans and military spouses have been hired, and that’s a remarkable accomplishment,” the vice chairman told the large group of attendees.
“There is undeniable growth in both the awareness and action in the cause of hiring veterans, and the business community definitely gets it,” Winnefeld said, adding that the movement is “really thriving.” He also said the trend of veterans’ unemployment was beginning to slow.
“We remain a nation at war,” Winnefeld said. “While, thanks to the numerous and tremendous efforts of our brave warriors, we furled the battle flag from Iraq and are beginning a drawdown from Afghanistan, the transition out of these conflicts and the inevitable normal cycle of a defense drawdown after a long war means thousands of our veterans will make the transition of wearing the cloth of our nation to wearing the cloth of business and industry.”
As that happens, he said, several important tasks lie ahead for the nation to accomplish. Wounded warriors, with visible and invisible wounds of war, must be taken care of along with their “tireless” caregivers. Americans also must make sure the veterans who’ve stood in defense of their nation also have a place to sleep at night.
“Today, a third of the entire adult homeless population in our nation are veterans,” Winnefeld said. “That’s 67,000 veterans who are going to sleep at night on our streets. There’s more we can do to keep this from happening to get those who’ve fallen into homelessness back on their feet.”
Most importantly, Winnefeld said, is for veterans to gain employment. “That effort is under way and we’re moving in that direction,” he said, citing Bureau of Labor statistics that show the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans that averaged 12.1 percent in 2011 has dropped to 10.2 percent. “That’s progress,” he said. “But even at 10 percent, there’s much more we can do.”
The employers who hire veterans already know their value to a company, organization or agency, he said.
“You’ve seen them in action … and the value they bring to your various teams,” he told the audience. “You’ve witnessed their agility, their adaptability, their proven interpersonal skills and their ability to perform under pressure. After all, the pressure of daunting deadlines is more manageable after [experiencing] the pressure of an incoming rocket attack,” he added.
Winnefeld said a “sea of good will” exists, and new companies are looking to join the movement to hire veterans every day.
“But we need your help in showing them the way,” he told the business leaders. “We need your help to encourage them to participate in job fairs, to help fortify that bridge from employee to employer, to help develop innovative transition programs for veterans to ease into the workplace.”
Winnefeld urged the business leaders who employ veterans to network and perform outreach work to help ensure that fellow members of the business community understand what an investment it is to hire a veteran.
“Help them understand how veterans’ skill sets on the battlefield and elsewhere translate into skills in the workplace,” he said.
The vice chairman thanked audience members for their support in hiring veterans.
“I can’t begin to express to you how important it is to [the armed forces’ senior leadership] to know our young people – who have worn the cloth of their nation and have served and sacrificed so much [and] are leaving the service – are being looked after by the business community [that] understands the value of hiring them and giving them an opportunity to excel in a new life,” he said.
Winnefeld said each person and their company represents a champion to him for hiring veterans.
“You understand the price of freedom, and you continue to give back to those who sacrificed so we can all prosper back here at home,” he said. “You’re making a huge difference.”