"One of my priorities is that veterans not just have a job, but they have choices."

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates kicked off the "joint convening" of The Muster and the Veteran Jobs Mission with this sentiment in Washington, D.C., on April 14.

More than 300 representatives from the private, public and nonprofit sectors attended the meeting led by Starbucks, the Schultz Family Foundation and JPMorgan Chase to discuss veterans employment and retention.

The Muster, a Starbucks initiative, focuses on improving the transition process for veterans, and JPMorgan Chase's Veteran Jobs Mission has brought 225 member companies together to hire more than 314,000 veterans since 2011.

Retired Army Gen. Ray Odierno, who joined Gates for the first portion of the meeting, said many companies want to pigeonhole veterans into certain types of jobs.

"It's not just about hiring veterans," said Odierno, who became a senior adviser to JPMorgan Chase in 2015. "Are you retaining them, and are they in the right spot?"

Odierno said veterans are quick learners, and they just need assistance from a company.

"We need the long-term civilian expertise within a company mentoring and helping veterans," he said.

Gates, who's on the Starbucks board of directors, agreed that civilians and vets must work harder at getting to know one another.

But it will only work "when the CEO makes it clear to people that it's a priority for the company," Gates said.

More than 300 representatives from companies and organizations met in Washington, D.C., to discuss veterans employment and retention.

Photo Credit: Starbucks Coffee Company

John Kelly, senior vice president of global responsibility, community and public policy at Starbucks, told Military Times that a major theme of the joint convening was to bridge the military-civilian divide.

"For years and years, civilians go by those military gates and they don't know what's behind them," he said.

The event fostered new partnerships and networking, and Kelly said the goal is to make sure those people stay connected.

Ross Brown, director of military and veterans affairs for JPMorgan Chase, told Military Times that the meeting's leaders will take the feedback they received and focus on the challenges and opportunities ahead.

JPMorgan Chase commissioned a study with the Center for a New American Security to survey companies about veteran retention in order to provide insights for future strategies.

The study will also look into the economic value of veterans to better understand the contributions veterans make in the workplace and will show how veteran retention compares with the workforce as a whole.

Air Force Col. Nicole Malachowski, Military and Veterans Affairs Director at JPMorgan Chase Ross Brown and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans' Employment and Training Service Mike Michaud discuss hiring veterans.

Photo Credit: Starbucks Coffee Company

Phillip Carter, senior fellow and counsel at the Center for a New American Security, said the goal is to publish the results around Veterans Day.

He said the results will inform the practices of companies and the next administration.

"[The results] will hopefully reduce barriers to your efforts in employing America's veterans," Carter told the attendees.

The panelists also focused on employing military spouses.

"The very best thing you can give a transitioning veteran is a spouse with a job," said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families.

She said the majority of military spouses are working below levels they've been trained at or previously worked.

"This makes it hard for the family," she said. "When we see veterans leaving after the first year [at a job], it's poor alignment" with their spouse's employment.

Roth-Douquet said providing spouses with the opportunity for meaningful work will help retain talented service members and veterans as well as spouses.

Air Force Col. Nicole Malachowski, executive director of the White House's Joining Forces initiative, said it's about everyone coming together.

"No single entity is going to be able to do this alone," she said.

Malachowski said companies and organizations must work together to share programs and ideas, especially since veterans in the workforce is an idea everyone can agree on.

Brown, of JPMorgan Chase, said that "until every veteran who wants a job has a job, our work is not done."

Charlsy Panzino covers veterans education, employment and transition issues, as well as travel, entertainment and fitness. Email her at cpanzino@militarytimes.com. 

Charlsy is a Reporter and Engagement Manager for Military Times. Email her at cpanzino@militarytimes.com.

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