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Chris Allen
Mar 15, 2011

The “So What” Factor

Ah yes, we are here to look at the “BLUF.” So, now is my chance to “dumb it down for you.” ……..The quotes I just used, did you find the first confusing and the second possibly offensive? What were your initial reactions? I’ll bet they weren’t positive? People in the military use these phrases and many others like them all the time. “BLUF” = Bottom Line up Front. “Dumb it down for you” = Let me attempt to simplify something you might not be aware of. This particular phrase isn’t meant to demean anyone but can if the person on the other end does not have a solid grasp of the military subculture.

When Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines leave the military, either due to injury, retirement, or career change, they enter into a different social world, not just a new working environment. Comments like the examples above can sometimes unintentionally alienate Veterans from the civilian population around them. As Counselors, we all know the implications of alienation.

So, let’s get back to the BLUF. By the numbers. The total number of US armed forces is roughly 1,474,515 Active Duty personnel. There are an additional 848,000 Reserve and National Guard Members serving. The total number of dependent family members is much larger. Women make up about 20% of the military and the numbers increase every year.

By 2035, there will be at least 15 million Veterans. Right now, there are approximately 26 million Veterans, so the number of Veterans is expected to actually decrease in the coming years. However, the number of female Veterans is expected to drastically increase to 16% by 2035. By 2035, 36% of Veterans will be minorities. The number of homeless Veterans is currently well over 100,000 and will probably decrease over time as the Veteran population grows older.

With decreasing numbers of Veterans expected over the next 25 years or so, what can we expect to see in the Counseling profession? Please feel free to disagree or offer an alternative opinion. I’m all ears.

In a dream world, we would have the expectation that a decreasing number of Veterans should naturally mean a higher quality of service. TRICARE would even pay providers more for hours billed right? Red tape might even decrease over time with fewer Veterans in the system, maybe.

I on the other hand take a more dim view. With the decline in the Veteran population expected to increase, the number of Veterans serving and advocating for Veteran care in Congress continues to decline. There are numerous articles published about the subject, and it’s not clear if the trend will begin to reverse itself. TRICARE reimbursement rates are tied by statute to Medicare. I will say that there is a recent groundswell of younger Veterans entering politics but nowhere near Post World War II levels. In light of what I’m saying here, should health care providers continue to hope that TRICARE and or VA reimbursements expand?

I say that we take a moment to look at private industry. What are some of the difficulties Veterans and their families have in making the transition to private industry employment? What interests does private industry have in recruiting Veterans? What are the potential benefits for you as a health care provider as participation in TRICARE becomes increasingly less lucrative? You can keep trying harder and harder, repeating the same patterns and achieving the same results, or something else can be explored, something different.

Employers. One of the jobs I had during my first year in grad school was working for a major shipping and parcel firm. I took the job because I needed insurance for my family, and the firm was one of the only companies that offered insurance to part time workers. They also offered part time management positions, and everyone basically starts off at the bottom of the food chain. I liked this because upper management should have an idea as to what the “little guy” is experiencing.

In my case, the first job was loading and unloading parcel trucks from 0300 to 0700 in the morning. The job was physically demanding, and yet fulfilling, allowing me time to make it for dreaded 8am classes. This company also made a concerted effort to higher Veterans. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t meet any. Maybe I simply wasn’t introduced to them by someone with the company. I don’t know. I did however enjoy the pressure of meeting deadlines, and management noticed.

I’m not here to debate the utility of unions, but this company was unionized, a concept entirely foreign to me and probably to most Veterans recently separated from the service. If a section on the loading dock was behind due to someone failing to show up for work, a union member could file a grievance against a Supervisor for jumping into a truck and helping. In the Army, whenever management jumps in to get dirty, supervisors are looked upon with respect, and people will work harder for them.

The entire situation made me angry. At the time I was seriously considering staying with the company. I was offered a job in mid level management on a “handshake” because I did well on one of their tests. I also had a desirable work ethic for the company. As fate would have it, I was called back to Active Duty for service in Afghanistan before I could make the move into management. It happens.

While in Afghanistan, I corresponded with the company so that I would not lose touch while being deployed. When the year was up and I re-deployed home, I returned to the company. Some of the peers I worked with before, people who weren’t Veterans, were promoted into management positions while I was away. The only problem was that the same supervisors who had offered me a job in management before were no longer working the same shift. I had to prove myself all over again to new people. There was nothing in writing, so legal action was not an option. Do you know how depressing it is to punch a time clock every day, while waiting and expecting for a promotion that might never come, no matter how hard you try? I ended up leaving the company because I was angry and confused.

My experience is nothing new to the Veteran and family community, especially for Reservists and National Guard members. I tell this story, not to illustrate that Veterans suffer psychologically from these types of experiences, but instead I tell the story to highlight the fact that companies like the one I worked for are consistently hemorrhaging what is often referred to by economists as “human capital.”

There are countless military and Veteran’s business networking firms. These firms will help Veterans convert their military experiences into sharp looking resumes, not an easy task sometimes. They are basically job placement agencies that provide services at no cost to Veterans. Fortunately, the VA and other volunteer organizations do the same thing as well.

Why do many large companies like Coca Cola, General Electric, Nestle, L3 Communications, UPS, Price Waterhouse Coopers, etc.. actively pursue Veterans? What benefits do these companies receive by actively pursuing Veterans? Are they purely altruistic in nature; do they just want to make a profit, or is it really a little of both? Aren’t we all a little of both?

And, what, if anything, does this blog have to do with Counseling you might be asking? If nothing, I’ve just wasted your time. But, there is something, and that “something” will be the subject of my next blog.

I haven’t written it yet and will include your ideas and responses in my next posting. The title will be “So what Factor 2.”

Have a great week.

Chris Allen is an Army Officer currently serving in Afghanistan who counsels Soldiers on a volunteer basis and will pursue licensure upon his return. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.

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