A healthy, educated veteran is a better employee.
That message was at the heart of a meeting at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., Friday, where leaders in government, healthcare, education, philanthropy, and corporate America met to discuss strategies that can help improve veterans' transitions out of the military. The event, hosted by the Dallas-based George W. Bush Institute, culminated a six-month long, cross-industry effort to address some of the biggest challenges.
"What we've seen and heard is a willingness across all those sectors to better partner, to better collaborate, to better measure and assess what's going on," Miguel Howe, director of the Bush Institute's Military Service Initiative and a retired Army colonel, said in an interview. "There is tremendous effort in this space, and so it's a matter of taking the successes of the past number of years, leveraging those achievements, identifying the gaps and taking on the opportunities to move it forward."
Participants heard from former President and first lady George W. and Laura Bush, as well as Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. University presidents, business leaders and veterans also spoke about an overall need for better awareness of the realities transitioning veterans and their families face.
President Bush gave the example of a hiring manager who isn't sure how a veteran's skills as a sniper translate to civilian life.
"A lot of corporate vice presidents would probably say to themselves, 'I don't think we need a sniper this year,'" Bush said, sparking laughter in the audience. "Hopefully what they'll say eventually is, 'This person is cool under fire. This person is willing to take on a tough assignment. This person is disciplined and well trained.'"
Bush also discussed the institute's new customizable online resource, VET Roadmap, to aid users through the service member-to-civilian transition. The institute has also launched a Warrior Wellness Alliance that helps address the "invisible wounds of war" and connects veterans with employment and educational opportunities once they've received treatment.
"Transitioning out of the military was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do," said Marine veteran Dan O'Hare, who now works for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. "I'm really glad this is happening and that people in this room are working on this problem. Not every veteran should have to go through what I had to go through to get a job and find happiness in life."
Goals for the meeting included establishing measurable objectives in veteran health, well-being, education and employment, as well as systems to share data and analysis across industries, said Howe.
He added later: "A convening that does not lead to action is — like we used to say in my old unit — a bit like a self-licking ice cream cone."