How Employers Can Support Veterans Transitioning to the Civilian Workforce

When I served in the Pentagon, we shaped policy to the reality that all service members will one day enter the civilian workforce. In 2022, half a million veterans transitioned into civilian employment, significantly boosting this demographic’s labor participation rate to over 80%. Concurrently, the corporate employment landscape slowly continues its progress towards diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility. These efforts underscore the pivotal role of recruiting and retaining veterans in the workforce — but hiring managers and staffing agencies must also adeptly address veterans’ special needs that can arise.

Transitioning from military service to civilian life can introduce challenges at home and work that carry over from a veteran’s time in service. For example, according to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, nearly 60% of veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan live with chronic pain. Unfortunately, substance abuse often becomes a coping mechanism at higher rates for veterans than the civilian population. Furthermore, an alarming 20% of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder also battle addiction or substance dependency.

Yet, the value of veterans in the workplace is clear. Veterans are skilled at working with others and acting with initiative, and they are more likely to have a college degree than their civilian peers. Employment can dramatically stabilize a veteran’s life, serving as a safeguard against homelessness or suicide, which veterans experience at higher rates than civilians. Therefore, it’s crucial for staffing agencies and hiring managers to prioritize the availability of employee screening and recovery management in their recruitment and retention processes, fostering a more resilient workforce.

The Role of Staffing Agencies and Hiring Managers in Veteran Recruitment

Staffing agencies and hiring managers are key to supporting transitioning veterans by cultivating a welcoming and inclusive workplace from day one. They can help create work cultures that set the tone for healthier workforces by proactively addressing issues such as substance abuse with background and drug screenings as well as identifying other veterans that may already work in the organization. Background screening and recovery management tools are indispensable in helping veterans navigate challenging life circumstances. These measures can also help pinpoint those at risk and ensure the workplace has robust support structures in place.

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Comprehensive background checks, drug tests and meticulous reference checks can help detect candidates with a history of substance abuse or a potential addiction inclination. However, handling these employment screenings with empathy is crucial, acknowledging addiction as a disease that necessitates support and treatment, not stigmatization.

Once veterans transition into civilian employment, sustained recovery management programs can drastically enhance their well-being. Below are a few effective strategies that employers can implement:

Equip human resources through training. Relying solely on rigid keyword searches in applicant tracking systems (ATS) may inadvertently bypass highly skilled veteran candidates whose resumes deviate from civilian norms. Businesses should equip their HR teams with tools and resources on effective recruitment methods and interview strategies tailored for veterans. Programs like the SHRM Foundation Veterans at Work Certificate Program can impart invaluable insights and tools to recruitment teams.

Nurture peer support networks. Employee resource groups for transitioning veterans can foster camaraderie and understanding, bolstering their transition process. These networks also act as conduits to community organizations, treatment centers and support groups, offering employees resources for addiction recovery should the need ever arise.

Implement recovery monitoring programs. In the event of known substance abuse, recovery monitoring programs employ various techniques to shift industry attitudes towards high relapse rates from inevitable to preventable. Employers should collaborate with nationwide licensing boards, using software and a range of testing options for recovery compliance. These efforts strive to improve recovery rates, help prevent loss of life and reduce insurance costs.

Prioritizing Veterans’ Mental Health in the Workplace

By implementing comprehensive employee screening measures and recovery management programs, organizations can aid transitioning veterans should they face substance abuse challenges. By fostering an inclusive and supportive work environment, organizations can facilitate the successful reintegration of veterans into civilian life. Prioritizing veterans also taps into an underutilized talent pool rich in discipline, resilience and leadership qualities. Together, HR and staffing teams can lay the groundwork for a future where veterans receive the support they deserve, resulting in stronger workforces that can benefit from the unique experiences and skills a veteran possesses.

Dan Feehan

Dan Feehan
Dan Feehan is a US Army veteran and the chief operating officer of workforce screening at Vault Health.

Dan Feehan

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