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Sen. Cotton: Vets' 'intangible skills' key to civilian employment

April 25, 2015 (Photo Credit: Alan Diaz, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON – Former soldier and current Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas says that employers need to think outside of the box when considering whether or not to hire veterans transitioning into the civilian working world.

While speaking as part of a panel discussion on veteran issues Saturday in Washington, D.C., Cotton called for an increased focus on "post-traumatic growth" and for employers to take into account during the hiring process the "intangible skills" veterans have gained in the field

"If we put the focus on the growth that any veteran has, especially those who were in close combat … we'll be serving not only those veterans better, but serving our country and communities better," Cotton said.

The context of Cotton's perspective was rooted in his own experience while serving in the Army.

"As an infantryman, my soldiers didn't necessarily get a lot of tangible skills that are marketable in the private sector," he said, noting that things like "operating a machine gun" don't necessarily translate to the civilian working world in Arkansas.

But the more abstract skills gained by veterans during their time in uniform, such as leadership and discipline, make them priceless commodities in the civilian working world, Cotton said.

"It just makes them a tremendous asset to the community, to their country, future employers," he said.

Iraq War veteran and former Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick J. Murphy, who now works as an anchor on MSNBC's "Taking the Hill," agreed.

"Eighty percent of these troops, when they come home, are doing great things," Murphy said on the panel, citing veteran business owners' higher-than-civilian success rates.

Murphy said the media was partially to blame for the public's ignorance of veteran success stories due to an "if it bleeds, it leads" mentality when it comes to veteran-related stories. This attitude promotes a "veterans as victims" stereotype, he said.

After the panel, Murphy stressed the importance of veterans embracing their military experience.

"They've done great things on behalf of the United States of America," Murphy said, so they should take pride in and be able to articulate it.

He said that being confident and figuring out how to translate one's military experience for civilian audiences — especially in using acronyms unfamiliar to civilians, the meanings of which a vet might take for granted — is key.

"It sounds basic, but walk 'em through it," he advised.

And when asked about his personal experience transitioning into the civilian sector, Murphy said he regretted not being more aware of opportunities available to vets.

"I wish more people would embrace veterans as civic assets and leaders," he said.

"These are great Americans who've done incredibly important work and they want to serve and they want to be part of a team, so embrace them. ... If you give them metrics, they will knock them out of the park," he said.

The panel, "Culture Shock: Vets and the Battle Back Home," was co-hosted by The Atlantic and National Journal.

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