By Andrea Cooper, Operations Manager at Mind Share Partners
“Thank you for your service.” It’s a polite thing we say when we notice whoever we are talking to was or is in the military. The veteran or active duty service member normally replies with a “You’re welcome,” and the conversation ends. We especially say it on Veteran’s Day—the only Federal holiday that celebrates a singular subset of American employees.
As a longtime military spouse, I often see this scenario play out in real life, or I read a feel-good story about a businessperson giving up their first-class seat on an airplane to a tired uniformed service member—both of which are incredible gestures that are greatly appreciated. But beyond the niceties, I look through the lens of a professional businesswoman. I wonder what more can be done in the business world to ensure these individuals are supported when their time-of-service ends and their civilian workplace career begins.
In this article, I hope to walk you through some of the unique experiences a Veteran may encounter as a civilian employee and provide you with resources employers have available to them to properly support this demographic.
◼︎ The military is the only employer with a guaranteed 100% attrition rate, ultimately leading to 3.1 million service members entering the civilian workforce at some point in their professional careers.
◼︎ While this group only makes up a mere 5.6% of the current civilian workforce, there are more veterans employed in the management, business, and financial operations, transportation and material moving, installation, maintenance and repair, and production occupations than their non-veteran counterparts.
Understanding the Unique Workplace Mental Health Experiences of Veteran Workers
Veterans inherently have unique, life-altering experiences during their time in the military—some are good, and some can have mental health impacts that take a lifetime to manage. In fact recent research shows that 30,177 active duty personnel and veterans who served in the military after 9/11 have died by suicide. Additionally, many veterans experience mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)—the lattermost of which is often underestimated based on the specific region or service, and not reporting specific experiences like Military Sexual Trauma.
Following their service and entering employment, many veterans face unique challenges in the workplace, including:
Failing to properly translate military skills and professional experience a veteran candidate has to offer to job match.
Hiring biases, including education (or lack thereof), age of candidates applying for positions, visual physical disabilities, and gaps in employment.
Not being included in organizations’ Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEIB) strategies.
Lack of inclusive practices throughout the veteran worker’s tenure.
Negative stereotypes or unwanted praise in day-to-day interactions with colleagues, managers, and other workplace stakeholders.
These factors, among others, understandably result in veterans resigning at "1.6 times the rate of similarly situated non-veterans, with 18.7 percent leaving within their first five years of federal employment compared with 11.1 percent,” often citing challenges with pay, meaningfulness of work, confidence in leaders, opportunity for advancement, training and skills development, and their supervisors.
What Can Employers Do to Support Their Veteran Employees?
Organizations can explore a wide variety of programs and initiatives that can support their veteran workers. For example:
Create an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for veterans. Mind Share Partners Peer Group Discussion guide is an excellent resource to help you navigate discussions pertaining to mental health at work.
Organize an internal volunteer program that helps the local community. Service to others was a core value in their military life, it promotes self-worth, and encourages bonding with their co-workers.
Establish a peer-to-peer mentoring program, and make sure veteran workers have the option to enroll from the start of their employment. This will help them get accustomed to your unique workplace culture, integrate them into their new team, and if this is their first role after their military experience, will also assist them in getting used to a civilian role.
Ensure veteran-specific resources for mental health, which can include a diverse network of mental health providers specializing in veteran populations.
Be conscientious around the news, images, and messages you share, for example, about current events, triggering footage, or unexpected loud noises like fireworks.
If you have a National Guard or Reservist as an employee, evaluate what support you have in place to accommodate their service and make sure you have a clear understanding of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).
What Can Individuals Do to Support Their Veteran Colleagues?
Beyond an organization’s investments into programs and initiatives, individuals can make a meaningful difference in supporting the mental health of their veteran colleagues.
For leaders: Be explicit and supportive of your veteran workforce. In response to world events, don’t rush to make a statement. Pause, and make sure to educate yourself on the situation and truly understand how veteran employees are being impacted.
For managers: Align around work norms, expectations, and communication styles. Any new person needs to get used to the way your organization thinks and runs. A veteran in particular (even at the highest level), is used to being given an order and a very specific way that order is to be carried out. It takes some time, clarity, and communication to align on what works best for both the employee and their manager.
For colleagues: If your workplace culture isn’t particularly familiar or used to having a military-affiliated employee, know that there will be natural curiosity regarding their time in service as well as opinions in support of and against the military in general. Always ask the individual what they are comfortable with sharing and engaging with in conversation.
What Resources are Available?
Outlined below are a starting resources to explore, consider, and share.
The Military Crisis Line: 988, Press 1
The Veteran Crisis Line: 988, Press 1
The DOD Safe Helpline: 1-877-995-5247 — This is the sole secure, confidential and anonymous crisis support service specifically designed for members of the Department of Defense community affected by sexual assault.
The Wounded Warrior Resource Center (MOS): 1-800-342-9647 — Direct programs in mental health, career counseling, and more.
The Cohen Veterans Network focuses on Post 9/11 veterans and current active duty service members (including Guard and Reserve), with facilities across the United States offering specialized confidential therapy to both the individual and their families.
The Vet Center Program: This is a Veterans Affairs community based counseling resource that is open to Active Duty Service Members (including Guard and Reserve members), Veterans of all service dates, and their families.
Connect to Protect: Support is Within Reach: Is a suicide prevention toolkit provided by the Defense Suicide Prevention Office and Military OneSource.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Resources: VA has a variety of mental health resources, information, treatment options, and more — all accessible to Veterans, Veterans’ supporters, and the general public.
Resources for Employers
Veterans Employment Toolkit — A comprehensive list of resources for employers, managers or supervisors, and human resource professionals
The Well Being Guidebook — A collaborative effort between The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Hiring Our Heroes in support of businesses of all sizes and industry to promote employee mental health and wellness.
Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) — A clearing house of resources and guides, including job skill training for veterans and employer incentives for employers.
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve — An organization under the Department of Defense Office specifically designed for employers of members of the National Guard and Reserve.
The Veteran Advantage: DAV guide to Hiring and Retaining Veterans with Disabilities — This toolkit provides employers with resources ranging from the business incentives surrounding hiring disabled veterans, to strategies regarding recruiting, retaining, and understanding their transition from from active duty to civilian life.
Veterans in the Workplace Project — Is provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs and provides resources for employers on a wide range of topics including affinity/employee resource groups, mentoring programs, and employee assistance programs for veterans in the workplace.
NAMI Homefront — An online suite of mental health resources for caregivers, family members, and military service members and veterans.
On this Veteran’s Day, and truly every day after, you can certainly thank current and former military individuals for their service. by understanding, acknowledging, supporting, and utilizing the talent Veterans have to offer. The impact will be lasting to them and to your organization.
As stated before, this can be done with programs and DEIB initiatives that are already existent in your organization. If the recommendations above aren’t incorporated into your organizational structure, explore the benefits it will have, not just for your veteran employees, but for your talent pool as a whole.
Andrea Cooper is the Operations Managers at Mind Share Partners. She works with staff and leadership to coordinate organization-wide operations. Andrea is the recipient of the Yellow Rose of Texas for her work with military families and the Department of the Army Meritorious Public Service Medal for her work with Afghan refugees in Operation Allied Welcome. Andrea is also a selectee of the 2022 Military Spouse Leadership Development Program.
Andrea has spent her career in marketing, communications, and operations for military and academic non-profit organizations. Prior to Mind Share Partners, she worked in higher education as a Communications and Events Manager at the International Center for Law and Economics. Previously she was a Marketing manager for programs at the Institute for Humane Studies as well as a Programs Manager at Operation Homefront. Andrea holds an M.A. in Intelligence Analysis from the American Military University and a B.A. in Political Science and Modern Languages from Methodist University.
About Mind Share Partners
Mind Share Partners is a national nonprofit that is changing the culture of workplace mental health so that both employees and organizations can thrive. It builds public awareness, hosts communities to support mental health ERG leaders, and provides custom workplace training and strategic advising, as well as on-demand solutions. Its clients include leading companies that span industries, such as BlackRock, Genentech, Morrison & Foerster, Pinterest, Tinder, and Yahoo, among others. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) are intrinsically tied to mental health, and that lens is core to its work and activities.
As part of Mind Share Partners’ focus on building the movement around workplace mental health, it offers free toolkits, frameworks, research, and resources in its blog. It also runs two columns in Forbes and Thrive Global and publishes articles in Harvard Business Review. Mind Share Partners has been featured in prestigious media, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, TIME, Good Morning America, The Boston Globe, and Bloomberg, among many others. Learn more at www.mindsharepartners.org or email email@example.com.