Employ the New Greatest Generation

Congress passed the IAVA-led Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, a landmark piece of legislation to help reduce veteran unemployment. As a result of our efforts, the unemployment rate for new veterans continues to drop; however, it still remains higher than the national average for veterans and civilians. At the end of 2014, the unemployment rate for post- 9/11 veterans was 7.2 percent, compared to 5.3 percent for all veterans and a 6.2 percent national average. While unemployment seems to be decreasing overall, there are rising concerns about long-term career success and underemployment in the veteran population. There are two tracks to veteran employment: 1) matching veterans to the right career; and 2) facilitating their entrepreneurship. Both tracks are good for the veteran, good for employers, good for the economy and good for America.

Unfortunately, finding the right job is difficult when employers don’t have the context to understand a veteran’s skills and experience; they cannot translate what they’ve done to their organization’s needs. This continues to be a significant contributing factor to new veterans unemployment and underemployment. Less than half of employed IAVA survey respondents felt their current position was an appropriate fit given their education or military experience. It’s in everyone’s interest to get the fit right; veterans who have jobs in their preferred career field do better work and tend to remain in those jobs longer, meaning there are fewer issues with employee retention or attrition.

Veterans are also highly motivated to start their own business, and are 45 percent more likely than civilians to do so. Most veterans are experienced entrepreneurs long before they get their big idea or file the paperwork. Serving in a war requires the very skills that make great entrepreneurs: creativity, leadership, problem solving, determination and resilience. As with the Greatest Generation of WWII veterans, investing in our nation’s future means fueling a transformative generation of veteran entrepreneurs, inventors and innovative leaders.

For our nation, this means enacting policies that will facilitate both hiring and long-term success. Post-9/11 veterans are the key to America’s economic future. We are not a charity, but an investment. And the time to invest is now.

8.1: Invest in Veteran Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners
8.2: Translate Military Skills for the Civilian Job Market
8.3: Defend Troops Against Job Discrimination
8.4: Incentivize Employers to Hire Veterans
8.5: Strengthen Veterans’ Support in the Workplace
8.6: Provide Veterans with Employment Resources
8.7: Empower Veterans to Continue Public Service

8.1: Invest in Veteran Entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners

The skills forged in military service easily lend themselves to the entrepreneurial mindset required to start and sustain a business. Many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan return home ready to start their own small business. About 7 percent of IAVA member survey respondents said they already own a small business and one out of five plan to start their own business.

While programs exist to support veteran-owned small businesses through the Small Business Administration and government contracting preferences, the majority of small business owners in IAVA’s survey reported that their challenges included difficulty in obtaining start-up capital (24 percent), operating costs (19 percent) and navigating state and federal regulations (16 percent).

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Allow veterans to use their GI Bill benefits as seed money for starting a small business or start-up.

II. Expand funding to community-based and nonprofit organizations with proven workforce development programs. 

III. Mitigate the effect of frequent and lengthy deployments by providing small business owners serving in the National Guard and Reserves with targeted tax relief and additional access to capital, insurance and bonding through established federal and local programs.

IV. Expand the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) to all veterans.

V. Ensure all legislation that promotes small business and manufacturing jobs specifies a benchmark for inclusion of veteran hiring and/or veteran-owned businesses.

8.2: Translate Military Skills for the Civilian Job Market

Translating military skills into their civilian equivalents continues to be one of the most significant barriers to veteran employment. Many veterans report that business leaders don’t understand the value they bring. While dedicated companies are working to translate military professions into their civilian equivalent, there remains no universal understanding of the crossover.

The Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 required the Department of Labor (DoL) to commission a study to translate military skills into civilian certifications. Once released, this study could be foundational in building tools to help veterans communicate their skills to civilian employers.

Meanwhile, state and local governments should continue to make it easier for veterans to obtain the certification required for their civilian careers when licensing and certification is required. Since 2011, many states have made headway in allowing military service to qualify veterans for some licenses and certifications. Until a more comprehensive approach is available, Congress and state and local governments should continue to ease requirements license by license.

IAVA Recommendations:
Invest in research to determine how the skills of military occupations translate into open jobs within businesses and nonprofits.

II. Develop industry focused retraining programs to help veterans translate their skills and bridge the gaps between their military skills and the skills needed in the civilian job market. 

III. Continue state efforts to account for military service when crafting requirements for state certifications and licenses.

IV. Train human resource professionals, either through nonprofits or through the DoL, on the unique experiences of service members.

V. Teach veterans how to market their transferable skills—such as management and leadership—to various employment sectors during the Transition Assistance Program (TAP).

VI. Report on the progress of the study required by section 222 of the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

8.3: Defend Troops Against Job Discrimination

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have relied more heavily on National Guard and Reserve troops with more than 800,000 deployed.

The changing and expanded use of the Guard and Reserve has created challenges for employment. The Uniform Services Employment and Re-adjustment Rights Act (USERRA) help Guardsmen and Reservists continue their civilian careers by requiring employers to re-employ service members upon their return from a deployment. However, weak enforcement mechanisms limit USERRA’s ability to hold violators accountable, leaving many Guard and Reservists without recourse when they return home to a job that has been filled. Additionally, USERRA does not even cover one of the worst offenders: the government. To protect our citizen warriors we must give USERRA teeth and insist the government holds itself to the same standards it requires of the private sector.

IAVA Recommendations:
Create standard civil and criminal penalties for employers who have been found to knowingly violate USERRA job protections.

II. Hold federal, state and local governments to the same standards of compliance with USERRA as private sector employers. Hiring managers and department heads should face automatic dismissal if a department has been found to repeatedly violate USERRA guidelines.

III. Publish an annual list of the top USERRA violators as identified by the Department of Labor and Employers Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program.

IV. Add the violation of USERRA to the list of offenses that result in suspension or disbarment from eligibility for federal and state government contracts.

V. Prevent employers from firing an employee while a USERRA claim is being processed.

VI. Make USERRA complaints exempt from pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements.

VII. Fully fund and actively promote Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, the tip of the spear for defending service members against job discrimination. VIII. Extend USERRA protections beyond the current five-year limit.

8.4: Incentivize Employers to Hire Veterans

Many employers have answered the call to hire new veterans and military families. The public and private efforts to hire more veterans has definitely help put a dent in the veteran unemployment rate. But it is a dent, nonetheless.

The expansion of public and private sector efforts to hire veterans must continue. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come to a close, one million veterans are expected to transition from the military in the next five years. In 2012, the Center for New American Security reported that companies struggle to overcome concerns about negative stereotypes of veterans or future deployments when considering whether to hire veterans. Programs to incentivize and educate employers will help overcome these concerns. Furthermore, the federal government should continue to use its resources and relationship with contractors to spur the hiring of veterans.

IAVA Recommendations:
Permanently extend the Vow to Hire Heroes Tax Credits that reward businesses for hiring unemployed veterans and wounded warriors.

II. Create state and local veterans preference law for all levels of government hiring and contracting.

III. Initiate a public relations campaign among the public, private and nonprofit sectors targeted at prospective employers and hiring agencies to help reduce the stigma surrounding PTSD or other mental injuries in the workplace.

IV. Establish a set of best practices for recruiting, hiring and employing veterans that can be disseminated and adopted by all public and private organizations, and educate prospective employers through a national public awareness campaign.

V. Continue convening White House summits on veteran employment that connect veterans, corporate leaders and community-based nonprofits.

8.5: Strengthen Veterans’ Support in the Workplace

Employers can tap the potential of new veterans and maximize the value they can bring to the workplace by implementing programs that support veterans in the workplace. In a 2012 survey of veterans fielded by IAVA and Prudential Services, Inc., 55 percent of veterans are concerned about cultural barriers in the workplace. Successfully supporting veterans in the workplace begins by understanding the challenges confronting veterans and their families and training staff to appropriately address these challenges.

Additionally, many veterans continue to serve through the National Guard and Reserve. At times, the training and deployment requirements of Guard and Reserve service can strain businesses and can be a disincentive to supporting these veterans’ service. The government can help by rewarding companies for providing opportunities to Guardsmen and Reservists.

IAVA Recommendations:
I. Provide tax credits to patriotic employers who pay the difference between a Reserve or National Guardsman’s civilian salaries and military wages when they are called to active duty.

II. Provide a tax deduction to businesses that provide additional training to ensure returning Reservists and Guardsmen have the same level of training and seniority as their non-veteran peers. The tax deduction should be equal to the cost of the additional training and it must also be available to veteran-owned small businesses. 

III. Include training on PTSD and TBI awareness along with other required American with Disabilities Act (ADA) training in the workplace.

IV. Establish veteran affinity groups within a business to connect veteran employees and provide them peer-to-peer support in the workplace.

V. Train H.R. professionals to become USERRA coaches to support deploying Guardsmen and Reservists and more broadly to be culturally aware of the unique skills the military provides.

8.6: Provide Veterans with Employment Resources

The skills required to join and progress within the military often vary from those used in the civilian job market. Upon leaving service, many veterans have never before applied for a job with a resume or leveraged their networks to identify employment opportunities. In 2012, a survey revealed that approximately one third of veterans left the service without receiving any sort of employment training or benefits.

The newly revamped Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is a large step forward in equipping separating service members with the tools and resources to find a job in the civilian market. But more efforts to develop job-hunting skills, networking, internships and other opportunities for veterans are needed.

IAVA Recommendations:
Continually assess the effectiveness of the newly implemented TAP through user feedback and success metrics and integrate changes to meet the needs of service members.

II. Overhaul the Department of Labor (DoL) One-Stop Employment centers to provide skill and education level appropriate counseling and employment services to veterans and better integrate employment services with the VA.

III. Establish programs to train veterans on professional networking and leveraging their professional networks to find employment. Ensure the programs include training on online networking.

IV. Fund best-in-class nonprofits providing employment resources for new veterans and allow these partners to offer their services on military bases and as part of other employment programs.

V. Develop interview training to veterans regarding what employers are allowed and are prohibited from asking in interviews.

VI. Create a tax credit for individual veterans who, within 10 years of separation from service, complete skills training beyond what their education benefits cover.

VII. Partner with and fund nonprofit organizations and companies to place veterans in internships or fellowships.

VIII. Move the Veterans Employment and Training Service to the Department of Veterans Affairs from the Department of Labor.

8.7: Empower Veterans to Continue Public Service

A significant number of veterans want to continue serving after they take off their uniform. The IAVA-Prudential veteran employment survey found that 80 percent of respondents were seeking a job that is meaningful when looking for employment. Among IAVA’s 2014 Member Survey respondents, 66 percent of those who were unhappy with their current job stated that this was because their work is not meaningful or does not make a difference in the world.

Veterans preference continues to demonstrate the federal government’s commitment to hire veterans; in fact, in 2014, 26 percent of IAVA survey respondents worked in the government. Even so, many veterans continue to struggle to navigate USAJobs, the federal government’s official jobs site, and other paths to public service. Others face different challenges, like the age limit on service programs like AmeriCorps. Today’s veterans want to continue their service, and new policies should help them reach their goals.

IAVA Recommendations:
Remove age limitations for veterans when participating in and receiving funding for public service programs such as AmeriCorps.

II. Ensure that DoD and veterans’ benefits do not count against means testing for compensation stipends earned while conducting public service projects.

III. Allow veterans to use their GI Bill Benefits for public service in the government and nonprofit sectors.

IV. Allow the DoD and the VA to provide grants for nonprofit service programs tailored to veterans like IAVA, Team Rubicon, The Travis Manion Foundation and The Mission Continues to provide assistance to communities in need. 

V. Expand the impact of Troops to Teachers to include substitute teachers, counselors, speech pathologists, JROTC instructors, administrators, coaches and librarians.