On November 11th each year, we take time to honor the men and women who served in the United States Armed Forces. Often after completing their service agreements, military veterans—especially those with combat experience—face difficulties readjusting to the flow of civilian life. Despite these complications, veterans bring with them an array of skills and perspectives that can be huge assets in the workplace. To commemorate Veterans Day, we would like to highlight one of our own— a combat veteran and current member of the Army Reserves—who provided us with insight into the significance and impact of Veterans Day and discussed ways companies can better support their veteran employees, especially those still struggling to assimilate into civilian corporate culture.
Phillip has served in the United States Army for 15 years, 12 of which were active duty, and completed four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. At Consilium, Phillip works to place medical providers in understaffed government-operated facilities—including veterans hospitals and on-base medical treatment facilities—as an account manager in our Government Services division. Aside from hitting key performance marks early on, his drive, commitment to working for the betterment of the team, and in-depth understanding of the nature of government processes have been huge contributions to Consilium (and he makes a pretty mean red bean chili, too).
What does Veterans Day mean to you, having served long-term and in conflict situations?
Veterans Day is a time to reflect on combat veterans’ sacrifices—and believe me, they were sacrifices in every sense of the word. For me, and I think for many of us, the week leading up to Veterans Day can be a complicated time. I am proud of my decision to serve this country and it is important to me that every time I put on that uniform, I represent to others what a soldier is and should be. I strive to live in such a way as to honor the memory of those who were lost in the line of duty. At the same time, this week can take a very sad tone for veterans as we remember men and women who were severely injured or who made the ultimate sacrifice while we served together.
What can companies do on Veterans Day—and every day—to better support employees who served in combat?
Get to know who we are as people; speak to us individually to gauge our needs and find out how we would like to spend Veterans Day. If given the flexibility to be out of the office that day, for example, many of us would take that opportunity to go speak at schools, participate in parades, pay our respects at gravesites of fallen comrades and/or visit their families, or simply to spend time with other veterans, especially those who are struggling.
On a year-round basis, companies can help their veteran employees by working to understand the challenges that come with assimilating back into a civilian environment. There are times we may not react the same way a civilian would because a certain process is different or nonexistent in the military—even a seemingly simple situation like a routine performance review meeting—and it is stressful feeling as though you may not be reacting appropriately and worrying that you might be making people uncomfortable. While we do not want anybody to purposely treat us differently than anyone else, it would go a long way for people to remember that at the end of the day…we are not like everybody else. We gladly carry burdens that most people cannot even imagine, but sometimes that takes its toll. Don’t feel like you need to tiptoe around us, but do be aware that some days are harder for us than others even if it isn’t obvious why. Know that our method for handling situations when we don’t know how to react may be to simply stay quiet until we have figured out how best to respond.
In what ways is military service facilitative of success in the (civilian) workplace?
When you hire a veteran, you are going to get a worker with a very specific and refined set of skills. The military teaches you to be highly organized and driven, to be both an effective leader and an operative follower, and to interact with and respect people from a range of backgrounds. Personally, I have gained a big appreciation for diverse viewpoints, skills, and experiences. To effectively unlock the skills of a veteran who works for your company, you really have to get to know that person as an individual, learn about his or her military duties and experiences in detail, and then learn to play to those specific strengths. We are hard workers and we are performance-oriented, but to provide us with avenues for success you have to learn where we really excel and which tasks may feel a bit like uncharted waters.
What is one thing that companies should know about combat veterans and the overall assimilation process so that they can best support veteran employees?
We are protectors by nature. Most combat veterans would pretty much do anything asked of them if it would help someone else: we want to be that guy people trust in a crisis situation. With that mindset, however, is the reality that our role in protecting the people of this country means that—because we have different experiences—it can be difficult relearning how to act in civilian settings, particularly in the corporate world.
Understand that in our minds, we will never again be who we were when we were serving, so to speak. We are no longer facing life or death situations every day because in office settings people don’t usually need saving, which used to be our guiding purpose. Transitioning to the civilian world requires a complete change in identity, and that’s a difficult process. Sometimes it can feel like we have already done the most important things we’ll ever do in life, and being around people who genuinely care about you and are excited about what we do together every day can help keep that feeling in check.
How has your work at Consilium fit into that picture?
I have worked elsewhere in the industry, and I can attest to the fact that this company is different. Even though we work in a competitive, performance-based environment, I have never felt as though we are being pitted one against the other and that is important to me. I value the ability to work as a cohesive team, and it feels like the company itself is a large team. I also think that part of the difference in environment may come from the fact that this is a faith-based company at its core. Even if people don’t always discuss their beliefs outright, it is clear from how they treat one another here that there is a set of shared values that people truly buy into and try to live each day.
What does your work in the Government division mean to you?
I know firsthand how important it is to find good medical providers to work with current and former members of the military. This is simplistic, but anything we can to do to help, helps. Personally, I pay close attention to finding medical providers with a true passion for working with veterans, who truly care about us and what we need. These are the people who see their work as a life mission. If I had to choose between the two, I would place the doctor who truly cares for veterans and charges a little extra versus a physician who would net our company a larger profit but who does not have a genuine heart for working with combat veterans. Consilium gives me a way to give back, even when I’m not in uniform.