For Veterans, We can Always do More

Any patriotic holiday always makes me think of my time in the service. Veterans Day, for sure, but also the Fourth of July and Memorial Day – any holiday that celebrates our freedoms and those who fought and died to protect them. As an immigrant and a US Army veteran, these days carry incredible meaning for me. I chose to come to America, and I chose to fight to defend my adoptive country. I never thought I’d leave the Army. From the time I joined at 17, the only future I could see for myself involved at least 20 years in the Army, and probably longer. There was no other life I even considered.

And then I got injured, 10 years into my Army career. I tried for months to get healthy enough to stay in, but no matter how many surgeries I had, I just couldn’t get back to full health. Like so many service men and women faced with career-ending injuries, I was lost. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing with my life, now that it was turned upside down. I didn’t know how to translate the decade I’d spent in the Army into terms that the civilian recruiters I spoke with would understand. I found my job opportunities limited by that lack of understanding.

It took me years, and a lot of hardship, to find a profession that gave me even a fraction of the satisfaction I felt as a soldier. After leaving the Army, I got a job in Cleveland, but eventually went back to Europe to be with my family. When the cargo airline we’d started was driven out of business by skyrocketing fuel prices and impenetrable bureaucracy in my home country, I found myself back in the United States, sleeping in the guest room of some Army friends, with a suitcase of clothes and $200 to my name. Needless to say, this what not what I thought my life would be like.

But that is a reality too many of our separating veterans face. They leave the military, full of discipline, incredible work ethic, extensive training and an unwavering commitment to work until the job is finished, whatever that job is. And then they run, full-tilt, into the brick wall of the civilian hiring world, where resume-reading software doesn’t recognize military terms, and hiring managers who have never served have no idea what to do with a veteran in their company. Add to that the stigma that comes with being a disabled veteran – no matter what the disability, everyone assumes you will be a burden on the company – and you have a perfect storm that keeps so many of our finest men and women from quickly finding gainful employment once they separate.

At Legion, we are committed to changing that. Not only is 20 percent of our staff currently veterans or active Reserve/Guard members, we’ve also interviewed every single military veteran, Reservist or Guard member who applies to work here. If they don’t fit at Legion, we make sure to connect them to other hiring organizations in the tristate, to speed the process for them to find gainful employment. To date, we’ve helped at least 80 people connect with organizations who found them jobs.

But that isn’t enough. As we thought about how we could help even more, we realized we had an incredible opportunity to offer with a short-term externship. We can provide veterans paid employment for three months (following the same schedule as our college interns), help them with resume and interviewing skills, give them a mentor, and allow them to experience the civilian work world while they looked for their permanent employment home. We know how to translate their skills, and we know how to make the transition easier, and we know, selfishly, what incredible employees they are. Having veterans on staff raises everyone’s performance level.

So, it is with great personal pride that I’m announcing our Veteran Externship Program today. Our first class will start in August, and I am more excited about this than about any other program we’ve launched in Legion’s history. I hope you’ll tell everyone you know about this, and encourage every veteran you see to apply.

by Tony Coutsoftides, CEO