From the Battlefield to VA: How Federal Managers Can Connect with Veterans

VA enjoys a proud and storied history of employing the Veterans its mission it is to serve.  As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq come to a close we can anticipate the next generation of Veterans entering the federal workforce just as their predecessors.

How can we prepare our agency to welcome them into our fold?  What are some best practices managers can use to attract and retain these individuals? The answers start with understanding some of the characteristics of today’s Veterans.

Today’s Veterans are most likely a member of Generation Next (also referred to as Millennial) and a product of their experiences fighting in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

The Veteran’s experience on the battlefield is unique to the American war.  Veterans are coming home after fighting a non-linear war in a fluid environment. They achieved their best results working as a team when they were given the proper amount of guidance and mentoring.

The battlefield decision-making process has been flipped on its head thanks to the inclusion of new technologies that have flattened the globe, combined with the emphasis on counterinsurgency operations.

No longer is the platoon or theater commander the most important instrument in completing wartime objectives. It was the strategic corporal who had the most responsibility and burden in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Serving as squad leader he or she was conducting operations in an area that combined hostile, neutral, and friendly forces in one city block. This situation placed a great amount of responsibility in the lowest ranking enlisted personnel than had any other conflict.

It’s from this battle-tested arena that veterans emerged as decision-makers with awesome responsibilities who can bring that rich experience into VA.

Veterans respond positively to a decision making process that gives them a sense of efficacy and responsibility within a chain of command.”  They will reject a work environment that is not open to their ideas and does not provide them with the responsibility commensurate with their experience.  Managers must provide incoming Veterans a substantive role in the decision-making process.

This new generation understands that being part of team is conducive to achieving better results. This lesson was learned and reinforced during military service.  As Veterans leave the military they will look for organizations that provide the same opportunity.  This is already having an effect on government agencies hiring from Generation Next and the managers who work with them.

In its efforts to incorporate aggressive intelligence reforms the Central Intelligence Agency has relied on incoming Veterans to carry out its desire for a new workforce that collaborates and shares information across multiple spectrums. This prevents stove piping information—something many of us are familiar with.

Managers who hire Veterans from Generation Next will reap maximum rewards if they place their new employee in a team environment where they can learn from their peers, contribute equally, and have their opinions and experiences valued.  Strive to learn their interests and goals and align them with your mission.

With more federal employees retiring everyday the importance of incorporating these recommendations will be vital for VA to continue its proud tradition of hiring well-qualified Veterans.

Managers must give these Veterans a larger role in the decision-making process as well as provide them a cohort of peers and mentors in which they can grow and become the next successful generation of veterans in VA.

Barrett Bogue is a 2006 Presidential Management Fellow, a Team Leader at the Veterans Benefits Administration, and a combat veteran of the Iraq War.

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2 Comments to “From the Battlefield to VA: How Federal Managers Can Connect with Veterans”

  1. jeff burum says:

    It would be helpful if you would take care of the Gulf War 1 vets first.

  2. Nicholas Giraldo says:

    Thanks Barrett for the article. From a job seeker’s perspective, how do veterans connect to federal managers to sell them these battle-tested skills that are essential to building the next generation of VA employees?

    How did you connect to your future federal manager? How did you leverage your experience to become a Team Leader at Veterans Benefits Administration?