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Is stigma against servicemembers hindering hiring?

OTTUMWA — With all the ribbons, flags and bumper stickers, Americans may think their service members are being treated with respect. But Iowa Workforce Development’s IowaWorks warns there is an area where our nation is falling short: the hiring of veterans.

J.R. Beamer, a veterans representative who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, says amongst veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, unemployment is more than 10 percent higher than it is in the civilian population.

“It shocks me in one way and doesn’t surprise me in another,” said Wapello County Supervisor Greg Kenning, a former member of the National Guard.

He said he understands employers want good employees who are going to be there for the company, but they need to open their eyes.

“It disappoints me that we’d have a veteran who couldn’t get a chance, even,” he said.

And that is what’s happening in some cases, said Linda Rouse, the operations director at the Ottumwa office of IowaWorks.

However, she said, a state and private business partnership is now assisting in a program to help change attitudes among employers.

Rouse said Principal Financial Group has started a program called “Hire our Heroes.” The idea is to educate other employers about the benefits of hiring veterans.

Beamer said Principal is one of the companies that gets an “A” where veterans are concerned. The “Hire our Heroes” program comes with educational material that Beamer said reasons employers give for actively avoiding hiring former combatants include fear they’ll suddenly be deployed again, that they’ll be using incomprehensible military jargon or that a combat vet will suddenly become violent due to post traumatic stress disorder.

Beamer said many of the reasons are based on partial truths. But it’s also true that many challenges can be overcome — and that “it’s worth it to the employer [due to] what veterans have to offer.”

“[Ignorance about PTSD] really stigmatized all the services,” said Kenning. “It’s a disease we don’t know enough about.”

And the old image of veterans dumped off after Vietnam had basis in fact, he saw firsthand.

“It would not be uncommon they’d leave a combat zone in Vietnam ... and less than a week after you’ve been on the battlefield, you’re walking around the streets. There were no parades, nothing that would say ‘this is the end of it, fella.’”

So while employers may remember that troubling image, things have changed for the better, Beamer said.

Civilians with post-traumatic stress disorder may or may not be diagnosed. Combat vets are screened for the disorder and, he said, the Department of Defense and the VA are the nation’s leaders in treating PTSD.

While a soldier may be deployed when their country needs them, he said, there are plenty of companies, including successful companies large and small in Iowa, who hire National Guard and Reserve members who may need to deploy.

For example, Principal, Fareway and Hy-Vee all are strong supporters of the guard and reserves, he said.

The military teaches more than skills, one of Beamer’s publications states. It teaches members to push themselves, and they learn “how to learn” quickly, under pressure and in changing situations.

The stereotype of military jargon use? Well, there may be something to that, but both he and Rouse said, it’s something service members can unlearn.

“Once in a while, I still get to help out a veteran, and that feels really good,” said Rouse, a retired U.S. Marine.

One place veterans sometimes need help is in changing over to a “demilitarized” resume. Even the veterans now employed at Iowa WorkForce sometimes need to remind themselves to stop using so many abbreviations and other military habits.

Phrases like “good to go” may be part of the civilian vocabulary now, but to list knowledge, training and skills using terms like “rat rig” (the radio antenna trucks), MOS (their military job title) or OCS (school for officers) can be confusing to employers.

But, asked Beamer, is that a reason not to hire someone who has served their country? He’s hoping Hire our Heroes can achieve its mission.

“The goal is to open the employers’ eyes,” Beamer said. “Let’s break these stereotypes and give veterans a chance.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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