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Battling Misperceptions About Hiring Veterans

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Military veterans deserve a good job when their tours of duty end, especially those who were truly in harm's way. Yet relatively few employers in the metals industry really go out of their way to hire returning vets.

The Department of Defense estimates that 200,000 service members will be transitioning to civilian life annually over the next five years. Many of them will be released involuntarily as budget cuts reduce the size of the nation's armed forces. (See related article titled "Call in the Marines!")

Out of a sense of patriotism, many supporters feel these vets should get a free pass to the front of the line when it comes to employment opportunities. Surprisingly, most veterans want no such preferential treatment. "We can’t allow veterans to feel entitled. They have to prove their worth like everybody else. Otherwise they are not going to reintegrate successfully," says Deb Rickert, president of Operation Support Our Troops America, a veterans’ support group based near Chicago (

To be sure, Rickert wants employers to hire military veterans--but not out of a sense of obligation. "Don't hire them because they served, but because it's good for your company," she says. As a result of their field experience, veterans tend to bring extraordinary leadership and confidence to the job. They are highly trainable and disciplined, and have core values that make them productive and reliable workers.

Among the services Rickert's organization offers to military veterans and their families is career counseling. It helps vets with their resume writing and interviewing skills and it tries to match them with potential employers. But the task is a challenging one. Both are at least partially to blame for the disconnect that persists in the job market.

As Rickert explains, many HR departments are reluctant to hire individuals that may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. They often fail to see how military experience has any relevance to a conventional civilian job. Veterans, on the other hand, know very little about manufacturing jobs like those in the metals business. They view it as a dirty, low-tech, smokestack industry with poor working conditions and little job security.

In actuality, both sides are misinformed. Veterans fail to realize that the metals industry, like many other sectors of American manufacturing, has turned into a high-tech breeding ground for innovation and opportunity. And while PTSD is no doubt a serious problem, it needn't cause so much concern among personnel managers. The vast majority of vets return from duty with no psychological scars. Only about 20 percent actually suffer from PTSD, Rickert says, and with a little time and counseling most are able to work through it.

Through her work with Operation Support Our Troops America, Rickert hopes to help veterans make a smooth transition to life after their military service. As the mother of three sons, two of whom are in the Army, she takes her mission very seriously. "These vets are all our husbands and wives, sons and daughters. It should be as personal to you as it is to me," she says.

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