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‘Hire a Veteran’ campaign debunks misperceptions

The U.S. Army kicked off its “Hire a Veteran” campaign Nov. 19, 2012, during a press conference with the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). The campaign is aimed at debunking employer misperceptions about the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) on veterans’ job performance, and at educating employers on what reasonable accommodations involve.

SHRM research released in January 2011 and citted during the press conference found that while 72 %of 1,083 HR professionals surveyed said that veterans with disabilities perform their job as well as any other employee, 61% thought accommodating employees with PTSD and TBI requires more effort by the employer. Only 8% thought veterans with PTSD were likely to commit a violent act at work.

Accommodations often cost less than $500 and can include such strategies as dividing large assignments into smaller, goal-oriented tasks; allowing the employee to listen to music with a headset; allowing for flexible start or end times or telecommuting; allowing time off for counseling and medical appointments; or allowing ergonomic devices, such as special mouse pads or keyboards, according to the Warrior Transition Command (WTC).

The WTC is the lead proponent for the Army's Warrior Care and Transition Program. The WTC ensures that non-clinical processes and programs that support wounded, ill, and injured soldiers are integrated and optimized throughout the Army and supports the rehabilitation and successful transition of wounded, ill, and injured soldiers back to active duty or veteran status, according to information at the WTC website.

Small accommodations yield big results

Retired Staff Sgt. Paul “Rob” Roberts, who suffered severe injuries while on assignment in Chamkani, Afghanistan, spoke during the conference about the importance of hiring “wounded warriors” and about how small accommodations have allowed him to perform his job at the FBI.

Roberts was injured when his squad was on routine combat patrol. An improvised explosive device hit their Humvee and the enemy open fired, engulfing the area in a firefight. The other three men in his vehicle were killed; Roberts’ face, hands and body were scarred with second- and third-degree burns and he had a traumatic brain injury.

He was medically evacuated and eventually moved to a burn center in Texas before going through recovery that included working with an occupational therapist at Operation Warfighter, a federal program that places injured military members into internship programs.

Today, the 31-year-old Roberts performs his job at the FBI with the help of an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, and special computer software that helps him overcome TBI-related issues, he said.

“The skills I learned in the Army, such as leadership, situational awareness, analysis and attention to detail transition perfectly into my new job,” he said in prepared remarks.

Jeff Pon, Ph.D., SHRM’s CHRO and strategy officer, noted that, as with many mental disabilities, injuries associated with the brain are not visible and are frequently misunderstood.

“The first step,” he said, “is to help employers understand that not all vets need accommodations” and that, for those who do, many accommodations can be made easily.

Pon comes from a military family -- his father was a part of the 82nd Airborne -- and he said he knows it can be difficult for men and women coming from a military culture to ask for help. But he added that it’s important that they seek the accommodations they need to do their job.

He pointed to employers, such as Orion International, which are “playing a vital role” in educating other employers about the value veterans can bring to their workforces.

Orion International was established by veterans in 1991 and has found careers for more than 17,000 enlisted service members and noncommissioned officers, as well as positions for 12,000 officers, according to Tim Isacco, Orion’s chief operating officer.

Best military hiring practices

During the press conference, Isacco offered the following best practices to employers looking to develop a military hiring strategy:

• Create a plan and coordinate it with decision-makers involved in talent acquisition, HR and operations management.

• Set measureable objectives and goals to measure program results, and determine your criteria for success.

• Take time to gain a clear understanding about the military background and skill sets that are well-suited to match targeted positions within your organization.

• Develop a marketing campaign designed to reach veterans and target those you would like to hire.

• Make onboarding a priority. Create networking opportunities and mentorship programs, and pay special attention to benefits that appeal to veterans and would help them transition into the civilian world.

More information on the U.S. Army’s “Hire a Veteran” campaign, including a video and online employer toolkit, can be found at WTC.army.mil/employers.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for SHRM Online.

©2012 SHRM. All rights reserved.

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