Vets, who needs them?

Tuesday - 8/21/2012, 2:00am EDT

The federal government employs a higher percentage of military veterans than almost any — maybe any — big company in America. Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs have lots of vets. So does the Treasury Department. And DHS. But the percentage of veterans is very low in some agencies despite efforts by Congress and the White House to find jobs for vets. For today's guest column I call upon one of my favorite correspondents, Stan the Man. When it comes to vets, he's been there. Check it out. — Mike Causey

Unemployment is the primary marker of the economic problems this country has been experiencing. The stock market has come back, but unemployment still stands at more than 8 percent. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report released March 20, the unemployment rate for all veterans was 8.3 percent, but was 12.1 percent for veterans who have served since 2001. For men ages 18 to 24, the unemployment rate was a staggering 29.1 percent compared to an unemployment rate for similarly aged male non-veterans of 17.6 percent.

Veterans get a 5-point preference for federal employment and some states also give veterans hiring preference. Disabled veterans get a 10-point preference, which is why an August 2011 report showed that one in three veterans with a service-connected disability worked in the public sector compared to one in five veterans with no disability.

When the job attributes of vets are discussed, usually the technical training provided by the many schools in which the military trains its personnel are the obvious starting point. Many colleges and universities offer credit for military experience. The American Council on Education evaluates these military schools. Usually colleges use that training to fulfill elective requirements, but some colleges choose not to grant any credit at all. So it is important for veterans returning to school to look for "military friendly" schools.

What about veterans whose MOS was not about electronics, aircraft maintenance or other technical skills easily transferable into the civilian workplace? Those who served in combat may not find employment ads looking for people who can march and shoot people. May I suggest that combat veterans bring some strengths to the table that are often overlooked because they are more intangible.

Combat veterans know things about themselves that other people don't. We might all think that we would turn into John Wayne if the situation required. Only those who have been under fire and still persisted in fulfilling their mission know for sure. The guy in boot camp who thought he was Rambo and curled up in a ball the first time he heard a gun fired in anger gets put on a truck and driven away.

By dint of training and experience, veterans step up and act when others are frozen by fear or indecision. Their ability to do what is necessary when the situation demands action makes them valuable employees. A WWII vet once told me that the German soldiers were good soldiers, but drifted rudderless when their leadership was killed or wounded. In the U.S. Army, someone would take charge, even if it was a corporal leading the platoon. I have heard a number of stories of veterans who in civilian life ran into a burning building and saved children trapped inside or who jumped in the water when a child was drowning on a class outing while all the other adults were frozen in horror on the shore. It might be helpful to have more veterans as elected officials. Maybe they would act when facing a crisis.

Combat veterans can also evaluate acceptable risk. There is no way to avoid risk in war. But to decide the objective is worth risking your life and the lives of your friends and then do everything possible to minimize the risk without abandoning the objective is not a skill that can be taught at Harvard Business School as well as combat teaches it.

Military people work towards a common goal: the mission is a more important goal than individual promotion. In the civilian world, individuals sometimes care more about their career than the organization's mission. Employees have been known to sabotage a co-worker so that they did not receive a coveted promotion. A veteran once told me he did not watch "Survivor" on television because in the military you don't survive by picking your friends off one at a time but by working together.