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America's Heroes at Work — Veterans Hiring Toolkit

Step #2 — Create a Welcoming and Educated Workplace for Veterans

Creating a welcoming environment for Veterans and returning Service Members doesn't take much effort - but it does take some thoughtful planning. What follows are suggestions for how to assess your current processes and explore including Veteran-specific actions into your strategy.

Develop an understanding of military culture and experience

Since the United States has an all-volunteer military, many civilians are unfamiliar with military culture in general. Currently, more than 2 million people are serving in Active Duty or Selected Reserve components of the United States military around the country and across the globe. With more than 1.64 million deployments since 2001 and a continued presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of conflict, the need for military cultural competency has never been greater. Still, some Service Members, Reservists or National Guardsmen may never deploy overseas. It is important to recognize these individuals' commitment without assuming such experiences. When standing up any initiative, or preparing your workplace to welcome Veterans, keep in mind that no two have the same experiences. That said, acquiring knowledge regarding military culture can definitely improve employers' and co-workers' abilities to understand, communicate and effectively interact with Service Members and their families. A basic knowledge of the values, structure, policies and expectations of the military promotes a stronger working relationship amongst employers and employees who are Veterans or family members of Veterans.

Military experience

Military experience varies greatly from Service Member to Service Member. For those without a military background, it is helpful to become better educated regarding the types of jobs and levels of responsibilities a Veteran or transitioning Service Member may have had while in the military:

  • Enlisted Personnel are the specialists of the military. They are trained to perform specific hands-on tasks in the military as needed for any mission. As enlisted personnel progress up the ranks (there are nine enlisted ranks), they assume more responsibility and provide direct supervision to their subordinates.
  • Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) are enlisted military members holding a position of some degree of authority, usually obtained by promotion for performance, knowledge and discipline. Additional testing and leadership schools are often required to achieve these ranks.
  • Warrant Officers are highly trained specialists and subject matter experts. They remain in their primary specialty to provide specialized knowledge, instruction and leadership to enlisted members and commissioned officers alike. With few exceptions, one must be an enlisted member with several years of experience, recommended by their commander, and pass a selection board to become a warrant officer. The Air Force is the only service that does not have Warrant Officers.
  • Commissioned Officers have the primary function of providing overall management, planning and leadership in their area of responsibility. Unlike enlisted members and Warrant Officers, Commissioned Officers are not as specialized (with certain exceptions such as pilots, doctors, nurses and lawyers). Commissioned Officers must have a minimum of a four-year bachelor's degree.

Bottom line: Commissioned officers plan, enlisted personnel do, and NCOs oversee the "doing" with the spirit of the commissioned officer's plan in mind. Warrant officers serve as the subject matter experts.

Did you know?

While it is not required for enlisted or warrant officers to have a four-year degree, post-secondary education, either civilian or military, is a large factor in the promotion process. Many choose to work towards degrees or technical certifications while serving that may be applicable to your organization's mission.

Proof of military service

Department of Defense Form 214, or DD214 for short, is a document representing and verifying military service. Officially called a "Report of Separation," "Certificate of Release" or "Discharge from Active Duty," this document may be confusing to a civilian unfamiliar with military service, as it contains mostly a series of numbers and codes. In actuality, the document is quite detailed and concise, representing a very clear picture of the Service Member's accomplishments while serving in the armed forces. The document verifies time served, awards, medals, promotions, combat service or overseas service, Military Occupational Specialty/Classification identifiers and a record of training and education completed.

The form is used by many government agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, in order to secure Veterans benefits, but may also be requested by civilian employers as proof of military service and type of separation (e.g., type of discharge). When possessing a certain type of discharge is a requirement for a job, such as for a security clearance, an employer may legally inquire about a candidate's type of discharge (if the applicant states that he or she served in the military) and request a copy of the DD214 discharge paperwork itself. In general, though, employers cannot ask about type of discharge in a pre-employment situation when it is not relevant to the job requirements.

Did You Know?

Often misunderstood among non-military personnel is the difference between the Reserve component and Active Duty. The reserve components of the United States armed forces consist of National Guard and Reserves. These members generally perform a minimum of 39 days of military duty per year and augment the active duty (or full time) military when necessary. Though the reserve components are also generally referred to collectively as the "Guard and Reserves," the National Guard is under the authority of the state (governor) until federally activated, while reservists are always under federal authority, are more regionally based and are usually trained specialists with a particular area of expertise.

Establish your company and its job application process as Veteran-friendly

Does your organization consider military service as a part of an applicant's work history during the hiring process? Military service is an important part of a candidate's background - and can be a strong predictor of his or her ability to receive and respond to supervision and training. Additionally, leadership skills and leadership potential are also indicative of a candidate who has successfully completed his or her military obligation. Just as a college graduate submits a transcript as documented proof of attendance, degree and graduation, so too can the DD214 be requested as proof of service completion.

Did you know?

More than 80 percent of military occupations have a direct civilian job equivalent. The Army and Marine Corps have the largest numbers of enlisted Service Members with no direct civilian job equivalent (i.e., Infantry, Mortar Man, Field Artillery), but the lack of a specific civilian equivalent DOES NOT mean the Service Member does not have transferrable skills; it simply makes it more challenging to document and articulate the transferability of skills.

Should you receive a resume containing a Military Occupational Classification code (a double-digit number followed by a letter of the alphabet, such as 35S; or title, such as Signals Collector/Analyst), simply plug this code or title into the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Information Network (O*NET) to locate a civilian equivalent.

  • Mention on your website and in recruiting materials that your organization values the service Veterans and their family members have given to our country and that you support the hiring of returning Service Members and military spouses. Supporting the hiring of military spouses (especially when the Service Member is unable to work) is extremely important to the military community.
  • On the "careers" portion of your website, consider including a statement similar to the following:
    • If you are a Veteran or wounded warrior and would like assistance with the employment process at XYZ Company, please contact us at
    • If you are a person with a disability or a disabled Veteran and are applying for a job with XYZ Company, we would like to ensure your application process goes as smoothly as possible. If you need additional assistance, information or answers to your questions, feel free to contact us (and offer an e-mail address and phone number to your company's point of contact for military initiatives, rather than a general webmaster or electronic screening site).
  • Offer job shadow opportunities for transitioning Service Members so they can explore your organization and make an informed decision as to whether or not their skills and experiences meet the needs and demands of your workforce, including the organizational environment.

Considerations for disabled Veterans

Provide all new hires, regardless of disability or perceived need, information outlining the process for requesting accommodations at every point in the employment process. After all, today's workforce can include a variety of people with disabilities from all age groups and walks of life. These can include National Guard and Reservists potentially returning to the job with injuries, as well as workers with acquired illnesses and disabilities (e.g., cancer, stroke, spinal cord injuries and others). Therefore, making the process for requesting job accommodations known lets ALL employees know your company's commitment to ensuring equal access and opportunity.

Resource Alert!

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a free resource sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy. JAN is the leading source of free, expert and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. Working toward practical solutions that benefit both employer and employee, JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace.

JAN's trusted consultants offer one-on-one guidance on workplace accommodations, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and related legislation, and self-employment and entrepreneurship options for people with disabilities. Assistance is available both over the phone (800.526.7234/voice or 877.781.9403/TTY) and via email.

Learn the facts about invisible wounds of war: Demystifying TBI and PTSD in the workplace

For many civilians, the image of the "wounded warrior" is a transitioning Service Member or Veteran who has acquired a physical injury (or a disability that can be "seen") directly connected to his or her time in combat (e.g., an amputee, wheelchair user, etc.). Often not considered are those Service Members who have experienced "invisible wounds" during their time in combat. Two of the most common of these are Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Managers and supervisors can help by learning how Veterans may react after being in a war zone. The National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder wants employers to know the common reactions to trauma - with the caveat that most Service Members will return to "normal," given time. The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder also offers a web page specifically for employers of Veterans. Of great importance is the fact that PTSD has various degrees and severity... and is treatable.