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Identifying Veteran Employees to Create a Military-Ready Work Environment

A woman wearing safety goggles and looking at a machine.

This article is excerpted from Chapter 6 of From We Will To At Will: A Handbook for Veteran Hiring, Transitioning, and Thriving in the Workplace (SHRM, 2018), by Justin Constantine with Andrew Morton

Virtually every organization with a veteran-hiring initiative struggles to ensure that all of their veteran-employees actually self-identify as veterans. There are a number of reasons why they may not. Some simply may not want to be labeled a veteran. Some may not consider themselves veterans because they did not serve for twenty years (this is a common misperception among those who confuse "veteran" with "retiree"). Some may not have had a positive experience while serving in the military and simply prefer to move on. Some may think you want to track them for negative reasons. Some veterans are concerned that corporations will assume they have PTSD if they identify as veterans.

But in order to measure both the effectiveness of your veteran-hiring initiative's ability to attract, develop, and retain veterans and the impact veterans make within your organization, it is important that you know which employees are veterans and where they work. After all, how can you demonstrate the value of hiring veterans if you are not gathering any sort of metrics on them?

Failure to track and measure veterans' performance within the firm may lead to a poor understanding and lack of recognition of veteran-employee contributions. When you are able to track your veterans, you can affirmatively and authoritatively identify how many have been promoted compare to their civilian counterparts, how they are progressing in general, and how their retention rates compare with other employees. We know that veterans bring incredible skills and abilities to your workplace, but you will not be able to adequately share that information with your colleagues and chain of command if you do not have an accurate understand of who your veterans are.

It is critical for you to educate veteran and military families in your workplace about the benefits of tracking. Assure them that when you take efforts to identify your veterans, it is ultimately for their benefit, and to ensure support from upper management so that your organization can hire more veterans.

Ultimately, tracking your veteran-employees should be identified as a top human resources concern. Naturally, employees are critical to your organization's well-being. To get a true statistical picture of whether veteran retention is an issue, you first need an accurate number of how many of your employees are veterans.

After identifying who your veterans are, it is important to assess what happens once your new veteran-hires show up for work, specifically what steps you should take to create a military-friendly onboarding process and work environment. Ultimately, creating an inviting and impactful environment for your veteran-employees will go a long way toward their extended retention, providing ever-increasing value for you. Later in this chapter we will discuss why veterans typically leave their first jobs out of the military. A lot of that has to do with corporations not empowering them with the levels of responsibility they are used to, and not providing the culture of inclusivity and teamwork to which they are accustomed.

More than 2.5 million Americans have served our country in the military since the terrorist attacks of 2001. Also, due to sequestration and the drawdown of our military, the military currently discharge approximately a quarter of a million service members annually and that number is likely to remain at the same level over the next three to five years. At the same time, according to the Bush Institute, 84 percent of veterans say the American public has "little awareness" of the challenges facing those who wear or have worn the nation's uniform, and 71 percent of Americans say they do not understand the problems face by those who have served since 9/11. So, across our country we certainly have what is called a civ-mil divide, but there are a number of steps you can take to create a military-friendly work environment at your organization. A thoughtful onboarding process is critical if you want to attract and retain veterans, and the veteran orientation is the first part of that.

Before we even address steps, you should take to directly welcome your new veteran-hires aboard and to set them up for success, one important piece has to already be in place: you need to have a corporate champion who is an executive-level leader within your company who is a supporter of and spokesperson for veteran employment. Virtually all firms that have successfully implemented veteran-focused programs have also identified executive-level champions responsible for those initiatives. So, what exactly is a corporate champion and why are they important?

The veteran employment champion will lead your efforts in a highly visible and critical area: serving as the point of contact both internally and externally for your veteran-hiring program. Remember, your executives often have robust networks outside of your organization and can leverage contacts within your industry or supply chain to encourage other organizations to join your veteran initiative.

Visible and proactive commitment from your leadership is critical. The importance of recruiting and onboarding veterans needs to be conveyed not only to the veterans you are hiring, but to two other groups as well:

  • Overall staff. Helping them understand that recruiting and supporting veterans is a priority and good for business will foster an atmosphere of acceptance and respect among all of your employees.
  • Customers and business partners. Letting them know of your commitment to recruiting and successfully onboarding veterans may encourage them to do the same, and they will likely appreciate the fact that you have instituted this program.

There are a number of potential programmatic benefits for your organization when an executive oversees a particular program:

  • Executive-level engagement promotes robust assessment and the development of metrics designed to evaluate progress.
  • Reporting progress at the executive level promotes opportunities to address institutional barriers and enhance opportunities for veterans.
  • Programmatic successes connected to executive-level engagement are likely to be visible inside and outside the organization.
  • The commitment of resources to enable recruitment, hiring, retention, and advancement is more likely given executive-level engagement.


Justin Constantine retired from the US Marine Corps at the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is now an inspirational speaker and veteran advocate. He speaks at numerous corporate, educational, and military institutions about leadership, the upside of change, teamwork, and overcoming adversity. Justin is also a partner at JobPath, a robust veteran employment platform that provides a variety of solutions to corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations that hire veterans.

Please visit the SHRMStore to order your copy of From We Will To At Will: A Handbook for Veteran Hiring, Transitioning, and Thriving in the Workplace by Justin Constantine with Andrew Morton


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