A Serial Entrepreneur with four successful companies, Mary Hagy founded OurVetSuccess to increase positive public awareness of veterans and the businesses that employ them. With 13 years of active Army and civilian service, Mary led media, Congressional and public affairs for toxic waste cleanups, base closures, and post-war reconstruction in the Middle East. She toured with the Kuwait Emergency Response Team, the first reconstruction responders into Kuwait City in Operation Desert Storm.
The time has come for an authentic view of United States veterans. Unresolved misperceptions about veterans are costly for society generally, but particularly damaging for the business sector.
The story that remains largely untold is neither one of war nor tragedy. Rather, it is the everyday story of 22.5 million veterans – some 80 percent of whom are as successful, employed, and adjusted (if not more so) as any other American.
Today, public awareness rightfully focuses on those in crisis: The wounded, the ill, the unemployed, and the homeless. This focus must remain our highest priority, as it is our honor to help those who are suffering after sacrificing greatly to defend our nation.
Yet it cannot be our sole priority. There is an unintended consequence in communicating primarily about this crisis we must solve.
The complexities of post-traumatic stress, injury, homelessness and unemployment (impacted by the Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns and the recession) have been distilled to an incorrect public perception of veterans as a group of victims who are mentally or physically ill and unable to function in everyday life.
The Department of Veteran Affairs reports that vets earn 13 percent higher incomes and hold higher percentages of professional, management and sales jobs than non-veterans. Military-related students entering college for MBA degrees have jumped from 4.1 percent in 2010 to 8.1 percent of all incoming students
Employers gain a competitive advantage by understanding the value of the veterans they employ and by hiring more of them. An increasing number of veterans hold business degrees, and a significant opportunity exists to leverage the government’s investment in training and education in skills that transfer directly to civilian jobs. Case studies, tools and resources are readily available to help employers implement a successful veteran employment strategy.
But for meaningful communication of this good news, we must tackle the “how” of revealing the positive impacts of veterans. Editorial decisions by the media, while continuing to cover veterans in crisis, must also include success stories. There are many.
Comcast NBCUniversal hired 1,000 veterans in half the time estimated, then doubled down for another thousand. Navy Captain (Reserve) Will Baas leads this remarkable effort. Marines vet Robert Ciaruffoli, chairman and CEO of accounting firm ParenteBeard, has just been appointed chairman and president of the Eighth World Meeting of Families in 2015, at which Pope Francis is expected to attend.
Two-term Congressman and Iraq vet Patrick Murphy is now anchoring MSNBC’s “Taking The Hill,” the only network news program dedicated to veteran affairs. Seeing a dearth of legislators with military experience, Marines vet Seth Lynnfounded Second Service at Georgetown University to prepare veterans to run successfully for Congress.
Last month, the White House honored 10 women veterans as Champions of Change. The list of achievements reflects decades of service to defend our country and now, to better the lives of civilians.
The Champions of Change announcement, and the White House’s attention to the positive influence of veterans, is an important acknowledgement that there is a greater narrative to the veteran story.
Veterans must be heard
While the media, our government, and the business sector all hold an important role in telling our story, veterans have the highest responsibility for the public’s perception.
We must be held accountable. The mantle of “hero” bestowed by well-meaning strangers is vehemently resisted by most veterans, especially those who are most deserving. Absent an acceptable description between hero and victim, most veterans fall silent. This silence underscores the notion that all vets are “heroes” who have somehow transformed into victims. Most of us are neither.
Every veteran in this silent majority must now speak. Disclose veteran status to employers. Become involved in veteran employee resource groups. Promote veteran participation in non-vet organizations, such as business groups, churches, and community activities. While we work tirelessly to help those in need, our collective voice of veteran success can prevent homelessness and unemployment.
Unless the 80 percent of us who are not wounded, ill, unemployed or homeless speak up, the American public cannot know the full truth about veterans: We are well, we are employed, and we are committed to our families, our communities and our nation. We are everyday people who continue to serve the country by fostering success.
A serial entrepreneur with four successful companies, Mary Hagy founded OurVetSuccess to increase positive public awareness of veterans and the businesses that employ them. With 13 years of active Army and civilian service, Mary led media, Congressional and public affairs for toxic waste cleanups, base closures, and post-war reconstruction in the Middle East. She toured with the Kuwait Emergency Response Team, the first reconstruction responders into Kuwait City in Operation Desert Storm.