We already have the army of skilled workers we need to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic: Our veterans

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Editor's Note: This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. 

Half of former medics and hospital corpsmen who want to work in a civilian healthcare profession cannot find jobs in the healthcare industry. While it’s hard to believe this is the case amid a pandemic, it’s true. Five years of job placement data from Hire Heroes USA, one of the top veteran job placement nonprofits in America, shows this to be our reality.

With about 200,000 service members transitioning out annually, the United States military provides a stream of highly trained talent to the American economy. While in normal times, the unemployment rate for young vets and underemployment level for all vets is typically higher than that of the general public, during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic we have seen an unprecedented increase. In fact, our partners who place vets in jobs have recently encountered a 50% increase of inbound requests for help. Of special concern right now are service members highly trained in specialties that the country desperately needs, but due to red tape, they do not have the necessary state or federal certifications to help.

At the same time, our political leaders — from state governors to members of Congress — are calling for an army of skilled workers to help our pandemic-strapped country, be they medical, logistical, or technical workers. Many of these leaders are calling civilian retirees back into service or proposing drafting medical workers from parts of the country less affected by COVID-19. None are talking about the “army” that we’ve already built and paid for: our military veterans.

There is clearly a disconnect between our political leaders and the value veterans bring to the civilian workplace. Indeed, while governors are asking retirees — the highest risk group for COVID-19 — to resume work in medical facilities, it’s maddening that medics and hospital corpsmen are not part of their plans.

To fix the situation, states must cut the red tape and accept military training for medical professions, at a minimum allowing veterans to test into state requirements without having to retake years of coursework many of them could teach. For instance, every basically trained military medic or hospital corpsman should be able test as an EMT immediately without further coursework. Also, recognizing that the human body does not change by geography, why should the requirements to treat it be different when crossing state lines? An EMT or paramedic certification in one state should suffice nationally.

And wasting the hard-earned skills of our vets is not just a medical problem.

Our military truck drivers have literally supplied “an army” across hostile areas and brought mountains of humanitarian aid to areas devastated by war, famine, natural disasters, and disease. These are the “been there, done that” type of people our country needs to augment those we currently have hauling much needed goods across the continent. Yet, when they leave the military, these same vets discover the unfortunate fact they aren’t qualified to drive a rig on the highway. Either they don’t automatically get a commercial driver’s license or, if they can, insurance companies won’t recognize their military driving experience, so companies won’t hire them. As an example, for years, our military had trained truck drivers to do just about everything but one skill required to gain a commercial driver’s license: independently back up to a loading dock (active duty truckers have a separate safety observer wave them in).

A commercial driver’s license is necessary to become a professional truck driver in the civilian sector, but with help from Corporate America Supports You (CASY), one of our top-notch non-profit partners, Swift Transportation, the largest trucking company in the country, has cut through some of the red tape that has stood in the way of making a successful transition. Swift takes advantage of federal waivers that can be used for Military Truck drivers that have been in certain military jobs. When asked about the Military Skills Test Waiver Program, Kevin Quast, COO of Swift Transportation replied: “Yes, we utilize the waiver. Not only do we recognize that, but we also recognize the experience, and where appropriate significantly reduce the amount of training that is required with one of our mentors. We focus on competency based evaluations by our mentors and testers, and most of these fine military folks are ready to go solo in half of the time or less than an individual coming from traditional training sources.” In addition, Swift offers CDL scholarships to any Veteran or Military Spouse who requires a CDL, including young Guardsmen and Reservists who have never had a DD-214.

When asked about the insurance requirement for these young men and women, Quast responded:” Yes, we are self-insured so no problem there.” Swift really understands the value of hiring Veterans. The real bonus for Swift’s efforts is that veteran driver retention is much better than that of non-veterans.

CASY continues to offer knowledge gap training to cover other areas employers find missing from military experience. Examples include IBM’s Skills Build Training as well as I-2 and Qradar, the Army’s Skills Bridge Training, O2O, The Microsoft Academy, SAP, Salesforce and their own HR internship program. More of this “bridge training” needs to be supported by the commercial sector, and the Department of Defense must work smarter to ensure military training can be more easily converted to civilian certification. If military service isn’t perceived as a route to meaningful employment, military recruiting will become more difficult.

If the medical and truck driver situation isn’t bad enough, it will likely surprise readers that the most unemployed military occupational specialty among newly transitioning soldiers is quartermaster. At a time when supply chain professionals are in unprecedented demand, according to 2018 U.S. Army analysis of transitioning soldiers,the quartermaster corps is the largest single source of unemployment claims among new Army veterans. Here is another example where government and industry need to come together to solve the problem. The Defense Department must better match service members with high demand opportunities like supply chain positions during the transition process. For example, during the mandatory Transition Assistance Program, a means should be provided to connect open civilian opportunities with military members skilled and eager to fulfill these roles (about half of veterans want to continue working in the specialty they learned during the service).

As a society, we need to view our skilled veterans as assets to continue serving our society, instead of liabilities cheered about at halftime shows then sent away. You can help voice the concern that we’re letting our highly trained veterans go to waste by asking for action from your state and federal leaders. If you are a transitioning or former service member, get in touch with one of our partners here who can help you get on the right path for success and apply your hard won skills in the civilian economy.

Capt. Dan Goldenberg, USN (Ret.) is the Call of Duty Endowment’s Executive Director and a Vice President at Activision Blizzard. The Endowment has funded the placement of more than 69,000 veterans into high quality employment.