How Employers Can Help Fix a National Security Crisis
Whatever your views on the conflicts over past decades in Iraq or Afghanistan, that fact is that they are over. But they came with great costs. Among them:
- Veteran unemployment – a terrible scourge 10 years ago when rates reached 12 percent or more, but less so now.
- Veteran under-employment – LinkedIn states that 76 percent of top industries hire veterans at a lower rate than their civilian peers and that veterans are more than 30 percent more likely to be underemployed than their civilian peers.[i]
- Veteran suicide rates among the post-9/11 veteran cohort more than doubled between 2006-2016[ii] – with no end in sight[iii], and now…
- Military recruiting
Recruiting shortfalls for our nation’s military have reached levels that, according to some, should constitute a national security crisis.[iv] The table below indicates projected recruiting shortfalls for the current fiscal year for selected services. This follows the Army’s 25% (15,000) recruiting shortfall last year, which forced it to cut its planned active-duty end strength from 476,000 to 466,000.
|Service||FY 2023 Recruiting Goal||FY 2023 Recruiting Shortfall|
|Air Force||27,000||3400 (13%)|
Table 1. Projected FY2023 Active-duty Military Recruiting Shortfalls[v]
The implications are rather obvious. Nora Bensahel, visiting professor of Strategic Studies and senior fellow at the Merrill Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, noted that in an era of competition among great powers, “the risk is if the US military is too small to conduct the kinds of missions that it needs to conduct in future wars, that that will go badly for the United States.”[vi]
Why Hire Veterans?
“What does this have to do with employers?” you ask. Quite a bit, actually. While there are many socio-economic and cultural reasons driving these shortfalls (physical fitness of today’s youth, unfamiliarity with anyone who has previously served, poor academic skills, addiction issues, mental health problems, and criminal records among them), there is one big reason that today’s employers control entirely – whether military service is seen as a pathway to successful civilian employment post-service. In a nation where only 9 percentof young Americans said they would consider military service, this looms as a very large and persuasive reason.[vii]
How so? Although veterans make up only ~8 percent of the nation’s adult population and just over 6 percent of the civilian labor pool, they have an outsized influence over the future of the country’s all-volunteer force that defends our freedom, protects our liberty, and enables capitalism to thrive. If military service is not seen as providing a gateway to successful civilian careers, future participants in the nation’s all-volunteer military may be dissuaded from serving. It is thus a matter of national security: “The success of veterans after service, and the positive perception of veterans as assets to their employers and communities, is vital to the success of our military.”[viii] The down-side of NOT hiring veterans is likewise a national security concern: The Department of Defense (DoD) must pay Unemployment Insurance for Ex-Servicemembers (UCX) to states whose veterans are not employed. These funds, whose amounts have varied from $200-900+ Million in recent years, subtract from DoD’s operating budget and thereby sacrifice funds that could otherwise be spent on our common defense.
But if that doesn’t sway you, hire veterans for selfish reasons. The men and women who bore the above costs are members of our military community: our nation’s service members, veterans, and their families. Through experience gleaned during their time in service, these deserving Americans have gained incredible skills – both technical and soft – that may directly accrue to those organizations insightful enough to utilize them. In sum, veterans have the skills that U.S. employers say are needed for success in the workplace (see Figure 1 below).
Moreover, veterans are perhaps one of the most valuable components of diversity and inclusion efforts. They emanate from an already diverse talent pool (31% of active-duty service members come from racial and ethnic minority groups), bring a bevy of transferable skills, and are readily available. With more than 200,000 of them matriculating from the military annually, they represent an ongoing just-in-time talent play. And their impact is palpable. Cumulative Gallup Workplace Studies uncovered a 22% increase in productivity at organizations that create inclusive environments that include veterans.[xi]
And that’s not all. The Center for a New American Security found that more than 90 percent of HR managers said veterans are promoted faster than their non-veteran peers, and 68 percent said that veterans performed better or much better than their non-veteran peers. More than 75 percent also said that veterans are easier or significantly easier to manage than their non-veteran peers. In short, “veterans bring a level of dedication and professionalism that promotes the bottom line while lower turnover increases institutional knowledge and cuts costs.”[xii]
How To Hire Veterans
Hiring members of the military community, however, will require some proactive thinking and planning. Some organizations have struggled to do so, which may explain why only 20 percent of organizations in the country have programs dedicated to hiring veterans.[xiii] Elsewhere, many organizations desire to hire veterans, but they have no idea where to start. As noted in my new book Hiring Veterans, successful veteran hiring programs tend to follow the approach highlighted in Figure 2 below.
Figure 2. The Veteran Assimilation Process[xiv]
They must begin by meeting a single requirement: the dedicated focus and top-down prioritization of time and resources from senior leaders in your organization. From there, the steps follow in more or less this sequence:
- Talent acquisition professionals, managers, and select peers must undergo some training to understand veterans as a talent opportunity, the culture from which they emanate, and how that background may mesh or clash with your organization. You must also understand regulatory frameworks that apply to your organization’s veteran hiring efforts.
- With that understanding, you can then organize and staff a holistic veteran support program, which begins with the formation of a veteran business resource group. This involves appointing leaders that have both a military background and tenure in your organization. It also includes creating content to support the effort.
- With the infrastructure assembled, you can begin setting expectations with both internal and external stakeholders. This necessitates decisions on program scope and results in needed momentum and support.
- With that alignment, execution can commence on narrowing the optimal sources of veteran talent. Interviewing processes should focus on competencies, while details on compensation and benefits must be made transparent.
- Once candidates are selected, a formal onboarding and deployment program should welcome these new hires, augmented by both a mentoring program and the veteran business resource group.
- Finally, program outcomes must be measured and celebrated. Apply for award programs and tax credits and leverage their outcomes to burnish your organization’s brand. Share your lessons from this experience with other entities aspiring to do the same.
There are few talent pools more malleable and valuable than those emanating from today’s military. You owe it to yourself and your organization to meet these folks halfway with a dedicated hiring program. You represent the economic engine by which veterans can assimilate back into society as productive members and propel themselves, their families, and your organization forward in doing so. Applying these ideas will improve your process of assimilating more of these heroes and increase the virtuous cycle of improving your organization’s productivity and beating your competition in the process. And in doing so, you’ll be doing your part to contribute to the nation’s security. It’s a win-win-win value proposition. Start taking advantage today!
About the Author
Matt Louis is one of the nation’s leading experts in career transition for veterans and public service professionals. He coaches individuals on their transition efforts and advises employers on hiring programs designed to assimilate these valuable talent pools successfully. He is the author of the award-winning and best-selling HarperCollins book Mission Transition, a practical guide for veterans in career transition, their families, and their employers. His second book, Hiring Veterans, an award-winning practical guide for organizational leaders on how to build programs to assimilate veteran and military spouse talent successfully, is published by CareerPress and was a #1 New Release on Amazon in the Job Hunting category. Both are available anywhere books are sold.
 2022 International Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal for Non-Fiction Military; 2021 eLit Book Awards: Gold Medal for Business / Career / Sales, Gold Medal for Current Events (Foreign Affairs / Military), Gold Medal for Best Author Website; 2021 Nonfiction Authors Association Silver Book Award; 2022 Global Book Awards (War & Military); 2021 Axiom Business Book Bronze Medal (Career); 2021 Living Now Book Awards Bronze Medal (Motivation / Improvement); 2023 Book Excellence Award (Career); 2023 Book Fest Book Awards: Website / Overall Design, 2nd place; Nonfiction Business – Careers, 3rd place; 2023 Outstanding Creator Awards: Best Non-fiction Book, 2nd place; Best Military Book, 1st place; Best Self-Help & How-to Book, 1st place; Best Educational & Reference Book, 1st place; 2023 International Firebird Book Award (Career & Military Nonfiction); Pinnacle Book Achievement Award (Career) Fall 2022; 2022 Incipere Book Awards (Self-Improvement, 2nd place); 2022 Chanticleer International Book Awards (Military & Front Line, 1st Place); 2023 BooksShelf Nonfiction Writing Contest Finalist (Top 5%); 5-Star reviews: The Book Commentary, Readers’ Favorite
 #1 for Job Markets & Advice – Amazon, November 2022.
 2023 Global Book Awards Finalist – War & Military; 2023 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award – Business Reference; 5-Star review: Readers’ Favorite
[i] Melissa Boatwright and Sarah Roberts, “Veteran Opportunity Report: Understanding an untapped talent pool,” LinkedIn, accessed August 26, 2022, https://socialimpact.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/linkedinforgood/en-us/resources/veterans/LinkedIn-Veteran-Opportunity-Report.pdf.
[ii] Matthew J. Louis, “Ending Post-9/11 Veteran Suicide: A summary of the causes of – and potential solutions to – a nation-wide scourge,” March 2020, https://matthewjlouis.com/media/post-9-11-veteran-suicide-white-paper/
[iii] U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. 2022. Figure 5, Page 12. Accessed June 26, 2023, https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/data-sheets/2022/2022-National-Veteran-Suicide-Prevention-Annual-Report-FINAL-508.pdf.
[iv] Rear Adm. (Ret.) Tom Jurkowsky, “It’s Critical to Solve America’s Military Recruiting Crisis,” TheMessenger,
June 2, 2023, accessed June 26, 2023, https://themessenger.com/opinion/its-critical-to-solve-americas-military-recruiting-crisis.
[v] Meghann Myers, “Army, Navy and Air Force predict recruiting shortfalls this year,” Military Times, April 19, 2023, accessed June 28, 2023, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/your-military/2023/04/19/army-navy-and-air-force-predict-recruiting-shortfalls-this-year/.
[vi] Michelle Kurilla, “The President’s Inbox Recap: The U.S. Military Recruiting Crisis,” Council on Foreign Relations, June 16, 2023, accessed June 26, 2023, https://www.cfr.org/blog/presidents-inbox-recap-us-military-recruiting-crisis.
[vii] Lt. Gen. David W. Barno, U.S. Army (ret.) and Dr. Nora Bensahel, “Addressing the U.S. Military Recruiting Crisis,” War On The Rocks, March 10, 2023, accessed June 26, 2023, https://warontherocks.com/2023/03/addressing-the-u-s-military-recruiting-crisis/.
[viii] Call of Duty Endowment and ZipRecruiter, “Challenges on the Home Front: Underemployment Hits Veterans Hard,” accessed August 26, 2022, https://www.callofdutyendowment.org/content/dam/atvi/callofduty/code/pdf/ZipCODE_Vet_Report_FINAL.pdf.
[ix] The Conference Board, Inc., the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Corporate Voices for Working Families, and the Society for Human Resource Management. (2006). Are They Really Ready to Work: Employer’s Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of the New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce. Last accessed September 1, 2022, https://www.conference-board.org/publications/publicationdetail.cfm?publicationid=1218.
[x] C. Zoli, R. Maury, & D. Fay, Missing Perspectives: Servicemembers’ Transition from Service to Civilian Life — Data-Driven Research to Enact the Promise of the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Institute for Veterans & Military Families, Syracuse University, November 2015).
[xi] Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan, The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity & Inclusion Pays Off (Brookline, MA: Bibliomotion, Inc., 2013), 37.
[xii] Shafer, Amy, Swick, Andrew, Kidder, Katherine, Carter, Phillip, (2016, November). Onward and Upward: Understanding Veteran Retention and Performance in the Workforce. Washington D.C.: Center for a New American Security.
[xiii] Roy Maurer, “8 in 10 Employers Lack Recruitment Programs for Veterans,” Medium.com, May 25, 2015, accessed August 26, 2022, https://medium.com/@HRCaroline/8-in-10-employers-lack-recruitment-programs-for-veterans-3426e6ba72ae.
[xiv] Matthew J. Louis with Dr. Anthony R. Garcia, Hiring Veterans: How to Leverage Military Talent for Organizational Growth (Newburyport, MA: Career Press, 2023), xxix.