With almost 22 million veterans in the U.S. right now, there is an unprecedented opportunity for employers to assist with the transition from war to the civilian workforce.

The “transformation” theme of this week’s Society of Human Resource Management’s annual conference rang true with a call for HR practitioners in attendance to bring in more veterans with disabilities into their respective workplaces. Meanwhile, the misinformation related to veterans with disabilities – impairments that are both seen and unseen – may be limiting the true potential of this untapped talent pool.

Also see: 3 reasons to consider hiring veterans

Judy Young, the associate director of training and development at Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, said the ultimate goal is to “transition veterans from war to the workplace, so that they can be productive and have meaningful lives.”

She added that it’s up to HR and employers to relay this information because many veterans may be suffering from disabilities that go unnoticed, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury and depression.

“We know that there is this whole issue of [self-] definition when it comes to veterans, because many of them don’t view themselves as having a disability,” Young explained. “Many of them don’t even understand what specific laws may apply as they are making that transition, in order to make sure that they get what legally they are entitled to.”

As it relates to disabilities, she says: “It is the unseen that creates misconceptions and more issues for employers.”

A prior study from Cornell and SHRM uncovered that 31% of HR professionals did not know specific laws covered veterans with disabilities, and 41% didn’t know what resources they could use to accommodate this portion of the workforce. Meanwhile, at the same time, 73% saw the benefit to hiring veterans and 72% believe that they can perform just as well as other workers.   

But, according to former first lady Laura Bush, more needs to be done by HR personnel because “nothing is more fulfilling in life than work.”

Also See: Skills-based recruiting 'fatally flawed'

“Look at returning vets when you’re hiring people,” she boldly stated at the last day of SHRM’s annual conference. Bush advised a session of more than 13,000 human capital experts to “help veterans quantify what they are good at” and “help translate the skills that our veterans have.”

Despite noting the “transporting” nature of former President George W. Bush’s new love of art, she declared that HR and benefits management specialists can continue to honor the human element of the profession by regularly treating American employees with “dignity and respect.”

Estimates highlight that the honor associated with hiring veterans is present, as approximately 77% of large employers and only 25% of small employers targeted veterans with disabilities.

However, how about retention?

“It’s one thing to recruit them, it’s another thing to retain them,” said Kathleen Lee, business outreach specialist at Cornell. Specifically, she said there is a need for accommodations such as training and development, or even flexible, telecommuting schedules that can easily adapt to the regimented nature of the military. 

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