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May 31, 2022

For many of us, yesterday’s Memorial Day well and truly marks the beginning of summer.

But for most current and former service members and their families, this date goes much, much deeper. Memorial Day is a time to acknowledge the sacrifices of military personnel.

In recognition of this though, yesterday is also an important opportunity for those of us in the HR and benefits community to remember how we should support military families and loved ones as well as the returning warriors among us.

Military might

Welcoming service members and military families to your team has proven impact – in terms of both inclusion and business outcomes. For example, The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University found that CEOs with military experience perform better under pressure, are less likely to make risky investments, and are less likely to engage in corporate fraud compared to CEOs without a military background.

Veterans are also hardwired for teamwork, leadership, grit, resilience, empathy and the ability to problem-solve in the most demanding circumstances. What’s more, they bring an organization-first mentality, transferrable skills and cross-functional career experiences that civilians may not acquire until much later in their careers.

With all of this in mind, here are four meaningful ways HRDs can make a difference for employees with a military background – not just in the aftermath of patriotic holidays but as part of a policy for demonstrating ongoing best practice:

1) Emphasize team dynamics

Many large companies host veteran support groups and professional networks offering camaraderie and career advice. Help new hires understand that while it can take time to find the right group, you and your company are there to help them find mentorship, navigate benefits, plug into employee network programs, and further their careers. Veteran-focused employee networking groups can be a strong source of support, and there are also collegiate and online groups specific to the wider military community that you can highlight for your employees.

2) Provide mental health support

Many military service members and their families will experience a toll in mental and physical health. The Wounded Warrior Project’s (WWP) 2021 veteran survey shows that three of the top four self-reported service-related injuries were related to mental health (post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression), with PTSD occurring among veterans at up to three times the rate of the general US population.

It’s easy to see how mental health can have a ripple effect within families, communities, and companies. So, it’s key to provide robust workplace benefits that include an emphasis on overall wellness, including things like mental health counseling, full medical care, group therapy, and long-term support.

Also examine the impact that expanding your benefits program might have – for instance by helping cover the costs of alternative treatments like equine therapy or help for service dogs. Other benefits you might not have thought about include re-homing programs for combat dogs. This latter benefit might particularly resonate among your employee population.

3) Demystify benefits

Ensure you introduce military families and veterans to the full program of benefits available through your company, including thorough personalized education. Part of this education could include offering training or help connecting employees with additional aid and community support. There might also be outside financial benefits they could qualify for, such as that provided by the Veteran and Military Transition Center. Other sources of help include the Transition Assistance Program, as well as specific schemes staff can access, including transitional health insurance programs, the GI Bill benefits, VA Home Loans, and Veterans Pensions.

There is also a wide array of non-profits serving the needs of the broader veteran family unit. Consider co-hosting events or volunteering initiatives with organizations like VeteransPlus, Wounded Warrior Project, or Operation Homefront.

Also, focus on retirement. According to Gartner, veteran talent is 49% more likely than non-veteran talent to list getting retirement-ready as a personal wellbeing goal. Look at setting up education or communications campaigns around rolling over military benefits like the Thrift Savings Plan into workplace accounts. Also, automatic enrollment in your company 401(k) is one way include everyone.

4) Support Financial Independence

Many companies (ours included), offer pro-bono financial education and training to interested veterans’ organizations focused on providing wise personal financial management as a civilian, including offering budgeting, debt management, financial planning and investing help. Hosting workshops and seminars can help members of the wider military community learn essential skills for managing their financial needs outside of the structure of the military as they transition to civilian life.

Your benefits really can make a difference

As another Memorial Day passes, please don’t underestimate just how important strategically thought-of workplace benefits can be to help connect the dots for employees navigating the changes and challenges involved in transitioning from the military to the civilian world.

Strategically, benefits that support former military service members and their families can serve as an essential tool to help attract and retain this vital source of top talent.

I have personally seen how people who have come out of the military really do thrive. They have incredible impact across strategy, execution, and accountability.

Not only will supporting the military community help these people build a new life, but you’ll also be building better, stronger businesses.

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