On November 11th, 2015, we as a nation celebrate Veteran’s Day. I’d love to spend a few minutes describing the entire history of Veteran’s Day as it was established until where it lays today, but my word count would be too long. In short, Veteran’s Day is a celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.
Over the past two years I’ve been meeting and training veterans across the country in a unique time in their lives, which is shortly after transitioning into civilian world. I originally thought to write a piece on one of those veterans I’ve worked with, but if you’re one of my one followers (thanks, boss) I’ve been there and done that. I decided to instead reach out to a local veteran, who has gone through that experience and continues to go back and help those brothers and sisters who served as well.
As a Marine, Dan Gaita served his country from 1992-1996 in Somalia, Bosnia and Haiti. During his service he received several awards and recognitions for his service and continues to be recognized for his work post military life. Dan runs Operation Vet Fit, a local nonprofit, he founded with his wife, and continues his support for veterans.
As an individual who assists companies hiring veterans specifically with disabilities I often hear from all sides (the veteran, the company, my colleagues and community organizations) that we want to, need to and should hire a veteran. I strongly disagree that you must not hire, simply a veteran, but a veteran that fits your needs as a company. Dan adds, “A veteran is not a veteran is not a veteran. In other words, veterans are as diverse as the tapestry of our society. While we ALL share the common thread that we volunteered to serve our nation, we also served our nation in vastly different capacities. It is these differences in service capacities that segment the veteran population.”
Most of the veterans I’ve encountered during job fairs and/or training had the belief in their minds and heart that they would be in the military their whole life. Unfortunately, life does interfere and these individuals find themselves back home quickly realizing the civilian world doesn’t quite know their worth and knowledge leading them into unfulfilling or jobs they are overqualified for. In addition to this curveball, transitioning into the civilian world is much harder task. For Dan, the challenge then (1996) was not in finding work, but rather in learning to “work with” civilians. After four years of active duty in the Corps, Dan believed civilians were “slow, weak, lazy, incompetent, poor stewards of resources and certainly not the type of team players that I had been conditioned to be. This made reintegration in the civilian world very challenging for a (at the time high school educated) idealistic Marine.” In addition, to not finding fulfilling work I found this mindset a common thread I find in the veterans I work with and assist in finding careers. Twenty years later, Dan still has his concerns and opinions about the civilian workplace. Utilizing the VA Vocational Rehabilitation program to attain a BA degree in psychology and a MA degree in Organizational Leadership has helped him better understand how to be productive working with civilians who may not have the same goals or mindset.
Understanding the hurdles in a veteran’s transition is helpful, but there is more an employer should do to understand what it means to hire a veteran. My advice is always not to pigeonhole a group of individuals. I continue to hear “we want to hire individuals on the autism spectrum because they can easily follow clear steps.” Remember Dan’s words, “A veteran is not a veteran is not a veteran.” Dan adds, “Remember that the veteran is not just a veteran, but a reflection of his or her service experiences. Companies should inquire about the veteran’s experiences, learn how to read a veteran’s resume and research resume experience you don’t understand.” Behind closed doors I often hear HR professional often dread reading through a veteran’s resume since they cannot comprehend most of what it means. “A veteran with just a high school diploma has incredible knowledge and is able to learn, process, and communicate better than most college graduates. Additionally, employers need to comprehend the difference in a veteran based on number of total years served in active duty and understand that applicant is quite qualified for a mid-level management position in most organizations.”
Understanding a veteran’s experience and how it fits into your organization is key to finding your best veteran hire. Dan also shares his thoughts on making sure that veteran employee is successful. “The best advice I would give to a civilian employer of veterans is to have in place a working relationship with a local Veterans Center or Mental Health Professional that is able to assist in the implementation of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques that will enable the combat veteran to become an element of awesomeness for the organization.” Disability Solutions has found it is helpful to accommodate our client’s veteran employees with no cost approaches such as dim lights, frequent breaks versus long breaks and time off for doctor’s appointments.
Dan and his wife founded and operate Operation Vet-Fit (www.operationvetfit.org), with a mission to assist our nation’s combat veterans, active duty members and affected family members through exercise, fitness, and group based motivational activities and events. Additionally, Dan is completing a second master’s degree in Social Work in hopes of expanding his volunteer services to include clinical mental health services for combat veterans and affected family members.