Missed Opportunities

Writing in The Washington Times, Oliver North quotes a representative of the Disabled American Veterans about high unemployment among veterans of the Iraq war. North thought initially that he was talking about those who had been wounded, but the DAV rep disabused him: “You don’t have to have been wounded in action to be ‘unemployable.’ Just to have served in this war makes it tougher to get a job.”

North goes on to tell about a recent experience on an airline flight. His seatmate, a corporate CEO, asked if “all the troops coming back from over there were ‘screwed up,'” and went on to cite a study alleging that more than a third of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan needed psychological treatment.” (There is apparently an AMA study that cites a number of 35 percent.)

Seems to me that when members of a profession publish studies showing an increased need for the services of that profession, one should be a little cautious in accepting the conclusions…just as you should assume your dog is not totally disinterested if he shows a preference for T-bone steak for your dinner choice. But whatever the methodology and threshold used for the study…is it really likely that the need for “psychological treatment” among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is greater than among veterans of, say, D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and Iwo Jima? And yet clearly, history has shown that large numbers of the latter category have done very well in their careers.

Prejudice against War on Terror veterans seems to be having an impact. North cites an unemployment rate among returning veterans of 15.6 percent–more than 3 times the national average. Part of this may just be due to transition timing–but pretty clearly, that’s not the only factor at work.

Businesses and other organizations that don’t hire Iraq and Afghanistan vets are not only behaving in an antisocial manner, they are missing a real opportunity. Would you rather just have another group of people directly off the educational conveyor belt, and often with astounding attitudes of entitlement…or would you rather leaven your employee population with people who have had experience in fulfilling some very serious responsibilities? See my post here for more discussion of the capabilities that War on Terror veterans can bring to an organization. Also see the government web site, Hire Vets First.

American business needs to be doing a lot more in this area. Talent is critical in any organization, and astute executives will look for it in non-obvious places, as well as among the usual candidates.

10 thoughts on “Missed Opportunities”

  1. Do you have a link to the AMA study which purports to show that 35% of returning Iraq vets are disabled? Or to any study showing that “more than a third of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan needed psychological treatment”? These sound like bogus numbers and in a brief search I could find no reference to any original studies that have suggested these numbers are real. If you have a reference, I would like to know since it is always necessary to look at the original research to know what to make of the statistics.

  2. SW…my only source on the 35% number was North’s column. The direct quote from North is:
    “The actual number–according to the American Medical Association–is 35 percent–a figure compiled by psychiatrists who have made diagnosing PTSD a self-employment program.”

  3. Googling much comes up; the first was NPR. This was aired Feb. 28; Title: Study: 35 Percent of Iraq Vets Seek Mental Care; Joseph Shapiro.

    One of my colleagues is upset because her brother committed suicide after he got back; she feels the Army knew he was a suicide risk, ordered him back early, and didn’t provide supervision.

    NPR takes an NPR line – I’m not sure, here, what kind of proportions we can take. Many variables make comparisons difficult and the AMA is likely to emphasize larger percentages because of their perspective; the attitude toward mental problems have been quite different from war to war, etc.

  4. Higher rates of unemployment are only to be expected among veterans, especially the enlisted, because a disproportionate number of them come areas with high unemployment which is why many joined up in the first place. When they go back home they face the same struggle to find a job.

    The myth that veterans suffer higher rates of mental illness than the general population is a persistent one but has been proven untrue by numerous studies. The effect especially disappears when you compare veterans with people of similar circumstances who did not serve. A lot of this belief springs from people who claim to be veterans or who never served in combat who want to play the victim. It seems that every other homeless person claims to be a vet yet few can provide any evidence that is the case.

    Warfare is traumatic but the military does a good job of filtering out people who can’t handle it. (That’s why you get screamed at in boot camp). I would take the AMA study with a grain of salt considering that probably a third of the general population could be classified as “seeking mental health care” (trouble sleeping, marital counseling, complaining of the blues can all get you counted).

  5. I hope the original post was clear that I take the AMA study, if there was such, not only with a grain of salt, but with a whole *trainload* of salt. I’m very concerned that the dissemination of numbers like this, carrying the imprimatur of “science”, may well be contributing to unemployment of veterans…as evidenced by the remarks made by North’s seatmate.

  6. If I get this correctly, any VC firm would want to preferentially hire veterans because their unemployment stats make them a better pool of labor willing to work for less.


  7. There are companies that prefer to hire veterans, particularly ex-officers. Mgmt in such companies may think that veterans are better workers, or that veterans are likely to know how to deal with and/or manage other people in big organizations, or prefer to hire veterans because they themselves are veterans and they prefer employees with similar backgrounds and values as themselves, or they think veterans will be compatible with their company’s management style. There are many good reasons to hire vets and I’m sure that the owners and/or managers at many companies know it. Not all companies are run by competent or thoughtful people, however.

  8. I have heard it partially explained by the fact that, even though they are released from regular duty, they are usually automatically enrolled in the National Guard (or something like that).
    You then have the possibility that your new hired person gets sent off again and you have to hold his position.
    Judging based on the ex-military guys I have worked with as compared to the general population, there does seem to be a positive difference with veterans.

  9. A person leaving the military is not automatically in the National Guard or Active Reserve. Anyone who joins the military (whether through enlistment or acceptance of an officer’s commission) does sign up for 8 years of service, of which some portion is active and the remainder in the reserves.

    But that reserve time can be served in the Individual Ready Reserve. The last time the IRR was called up en masse was for Korea, although I understand a relatively small number of ex-officers with particular skill sets have been recalled during the WOT.

    If employers are concerned about this they are misinformed.

  10. maybe this is a silly observation, but…

    The fact that so few “disabled” veterans have some mental readjustment problems upon reentering the workforce IS A GOOD THING!. Most health individuals, after having an accident or illness that leaves them “disabled” are bummed out by the fact that they’ve become “disabled”, period! The question is why young people who’ve become “disabled” serving their Country should be, for the most part, better adjusted, mentally, than some civilian who lost an arm or a leg in a car accident.

    I know if I lost a limb, or etc. and became “disabled”, that I’d probably go through a phase of being depressed and taciturn about my new condition. Yet this is the situation in the United States today… so many “civilians” take the concept of voluntary service for the Republic so lightly, and treat those who value military service with such disdain and contempt, that a man who has a purple heart pinned on his chest to explain his “disability” is treated as if he’d been injured in a drunk driving accident.

    Frankly, had I been on the airplane with the CEO who made the above comments, I’d have gotten pissed off and suggested that the board of his company was making a mistake by not firing him. A CEO who doesn’t understand the importance of character and sacrifice, of loyalty and service, is a CEO who is likely to cut corners and make poor promotion and hiring decisions. An American CEO who lacks any appreciation of the Republics citizen soldiers who’ve given their health in service to it, probably also lacks much appreciation regarding the Republics laws or the value of his own franchise.

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