America’s financial titans are making a major push to find fresh talent among returning war veterans.
Veteran’s on Wall Street (VOWS), a coalition of military veterans from five major banks in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hosted its second-annual conference and career fair Thursday on Wall Street.
Last year, more than 1,500 veterans and military spouses attended, resulting in 154 direct hires. And this year, over 500 veterans registered to attend. Thursday's fair was one of 400 hiring events that the Chamber of Commerce is planning this year as part of its Hiring Our Heroes campaign.
The campaign is a multi-year initiative to work with businesses to make commitments to hire 500,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014. Although this is the most ambitious campaign, it’s not the only major veteran hiring initiative. JPMorgan Chase leads an initiative of more than 50 companies with the goal of hiring 100,000 veterans by 2020. And many other individual corporations have their own veteran hiring initiatives, like Disney and Amazon .
But with all of these veteran hiring initiatives, why is the veteran unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans consistently several percentage points higher than the general population? The May employment numbers from the Labor Department actually show an increase from 12.1 percent a year ago to 12.7 percent.
A recent nationwide survey conducted by The Mission Continues provides some insight as to why the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is consistently above the national average.
Those surveyed found veterans more disciplined, having a stronger character, and more involved in their communities than their non-veteran peers — qualities that every employer would want in an employee. But those surveyed also believe that a majority of veterans have returned home suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
However, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, some 10 percent to 11 percent of those who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are receiving treatment for PTSD. That doesn't include an unknown number of veterans suffering from PTSD who are awaiting treatment or have chosen to self-medicate. Some military and medical professionals believe that up to 20 percent of returning veterans will suffer from PTSD, well below a majority.
Is this premise influencing employers to not hire veterans?
Lisa Rosser, founder of The Value of a Veteran, a consulting firm that teaches Fortune 500 companies how to recruit and retain military veterans, thinks that the negative stigma of PTSD may be a roadblock to hiring. "What employers think they know about PTSD is how they have seen it portrayed on TV. The 'crazy veteran' is a stereotype."
"But," Rosser said, "it’s important to remember that PTSD is not just a veteran’s condition. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event can experience post-traumatic stress symptoms.”
Yuan Ao, an Iraq veteran who is now a finance major at Baruch College and attended the VOWS career fair last year, says: "Anytime there is a negative stigma about a topic that employers haven't dealt with before, they tend to avoid it if all things are equal. Companies don't want to take-on additional risk."
When asked, human resource professionals say PTSD is absolutely not a disqualifier to employment.
Chris Perkins, a managing director for Citi , former Marine Corps captain and co-founder of VOWS, says, "Citi has a national-level partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project's Warrior to Work program to help wounded warriors with career coaching, mentoring and their broader job search efforts. We've also hosted, trained and hired disabled veterans from the Wall Street Warfighters program. This is all part of our broader Citi Salutes that is focused on the unique needs of military veterans."
VOWS, the Chamber of Commerce and the many other companies and organizations launching veteran hiring initiatives recognize the value that veterans can bring to an organization. But these are top-down initiatives.
To ensure that misconceptions are not preventing veterans from being hired, Andrew Roberts, an Iraq veteran and director of the office of military and veterans liaison services for the North Shore-LIJ Health System, said individual hiring managers at the ground level need to be better informed.
"Take some time before you interview a veteran to better understand post-traumatic stress and military experiences beyond what's written on a resume," Roberts said.
Employers can utilize many resources to better inform themselves of PTSD and military experiences. One method is integrating military veteran employees into the hiring process.
Roberts, who experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress when he returned home from Iraq, says, "If a company is stigmatizing the men and women who have served our country, especially since 9/11, they should be ashamed of themselves.
"Post operational stress is the common, normal reaction to the abnormal circumstances of war. Many veterans of World War II suffered from PTS, yet America invested in them and the return was substantial. It should be no different with this generation."
CNBC producer Mike Abrams is a former Marine Corps captain and Afghanistan veteran.