Veterans Transitioning Back to Civilian Life: Opportunities for Transformation in the Workforce

Almost 7% of the roughly 319 million Americans in the United States (U.S.) are veterans, according to the Census Bureau. Figures published by the New England Industry Liaison Group suggest that the military has over 7,000 jobs across more than 100 functional areas, but approximately 19% of these military jobs do not have a direct civilian equivalent. In many cases, additional certifications are needed for veterans to obtain equivalent jobs after leaving the service.

It is important to attract, hire and retain qualified diverse employees – to remain competitive for prospective employees, and to ensure diversity of thought, skill, background and experience are embraced in a way that will address the needs of the evolving population. What military service skills can veterans carry over to a civilian workplace and how should companies harness these proficiencies? What challenges do veterans face upon return to the U.S.? Participants of a recent thought leader reception, underwritten by AstraZeneca in partnership with the National Journal and moderated by Steve Clemons, Washington Editor-at-Large, National Journal & The Atlantic, engaged in a lively discussion spanning these questions and others.

Paul Hudson, President, AstraZeneca U.S. and Executive Vice President, North America kicked off the discussion by urging representatives from veterans’ advocacy organizations, employers, Hill staffers, Congressional committees, think tanks and media to drive transformation so that all veterans transition back to jobs where they can contribute their training and diversity of perspective to a meaningful purpose.

The panel of speakers was made up by Eric Eversole, Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and President, Hiring Our Heroes; Lieutenant Colonel Brian Gilman, Director, National Organizations, Chairman’s Office of Reintegration, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense; The Honorable Martha McSally (R-AZ), Member, House Armed Services Committee; and Matt Miller, Chief Policy Officer, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The panel highlighted the need for stronger collaboration, opportunities for mentorship, increased understanding of the evolving needs of veterans and better transitional programs.

Recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest that almost 49.5% of the 21.2 million veterans in 2014 are neither employed nor seeking employment. In addition, veterans commit suicide at a higher rate than non-veterans. To help veterans better transition to civilian life, attendees noted a need for more best-practice sharing across organizations and at the community level. Not only is it critical that we provide jobs for veterans that best leverage their unique voices, views and talents, but we must also work to provide support to their families and spouses.

For example, a report from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families found that the unemployment rates of 25 to 44 year-old Armed Forces female spouses were almost three times higher than their civilian counterparts. Attendees stressed a need for helping young service members and their families build networks and find mentors. At AstraZeneca, for example, we have a Military Support employee resource group where employees can connect with our wide network of military members and their families across the globe. Additionally, we are involved in a number of other initiatives to support and make a difference in the lives of our military men and women.

AstraZeneca also supports a program at HonorHealth, a hospital system based in Phoenix, Arizona that aims to hire and deploy Transition Support Services (TSS) specialists – former combat medics – to provide personal assistance to Medicare beneficiaries recently discharged from the hospital for congestive heart failure, acute myocardial infarction and pneumonia.

As one of the only programs of its kind, these TSSs engage with patients upon admission to the hospital, at the time of discharge and for at least 30 days post-discharge, focusing on using medical and wellness education and relationship-building tools to assist patients in not only managing symptoms, but helping them live happier, healthier lives.

As we look ahead to the Veterans’ Day holiday on Wednesday, November 11, we are reminded of the opportunities to help employers and all Americans better understand veterans and their value in the community as civic assets. AstraZeneca is committed to continuing the dialogue and ensuring that the many voices, views and talents of military veterans can be meaningfully used to address the unique needs of the U.S. population – including the critical needs of the patients we serve every day.

The reception was part of a series of events coordinated by National Journal LIVE, a premier events business that convenes top leaders in the Washington, D.C. area to discuss possible solutions to the country’s biggest challenges.