Former President George W. Bush announced a sweeping initiative to study post-9/11 generation veterans on Thursday at his institute's "Empowering Our Nation's Warriors" summit. (Photo courtesy George W. Bush Institute)

Bush plans to breach ‘civilian-military’ divide

Former President George W. Bush misses a few things about being president. Jokingly, he says he misses the reliability of Air Force One to make sure his luggage arrives on time.

Above all, he misses saluting the men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Speaking in Dallas, Bush said he will again take up that cause through his institute for long into the future.

American Legion staff members participated in the Feb. 19 “Empowering Our Nation’s Warriors” summit at the George W. Bush Institute, where the 43rd U.S. president pledged his full support for the nation’s veterans and their families, putting the full strength of his institute behind that promise.

“Many (servicemembers) are coming home and are preparing for new missions as civilians, and I intend to salute these men and women for the rest of my life,” Bush said. “And through the Military Service Initiative, the Bush Institute is going to help. We’re focused, and we’ll be relentless in serving our vets.

“And so a goal of the Military Service Initiative is to help Americans understand how they can support our veterans and empower them to succeed. Support for our troops since 9/11 has been overwhelming, but until now, we haven’t really asked."

To answer those questions, the former president said that researchers at his institute, working with Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, are conducting a study in which veterans and military service organizations are helping their target audiences. The goal of the study is to establish best practices among the more than 46,000 service groups currently active within the United States.

“That’s a huge number, and it’s a great testament to our country’s strong support for veterans, but it can be overwhelming for newly returned veterans looking for help,” Bush said. “And while these organizations have good intentions, I suspect some deliver better results than others.”

Results of the study are expected to be released this fall, while results of the institute’s study on the post-9/11 veteran population are expected to be released this spring. The latter study tracks demographic and employment information, as well as the population’s feelings on the country’s military-civilian divide.

Bush provided a glimpse into the second study. “Eighty-four percent of the veterans say that the American public has ‘little awareness’ of the challenges facing them and their families,” he said. “It turns out most Americans agree: 71 percent of Americans said they do not understand the problems facing our veterans. You might call this a ‘civilian-military divide.’” 

Another goal of the study, Bush said, is to help more veterans put their skills to work in the civilian sector. “From our research, we know one problem is that veterans and employers both have a hard time translating military experience,” Bush said. “Our study will help employers understand what veterans have to offer and enable them to tailor their recruitment and hiring efforts. And we’re going to send a broader message: Hiring veterans is not only the right thing to do – it is a smart thing to do. When a résumé says ‘United States military,’ that means you can count on the applicant to be loyal, have good leadership, teamwork skills and discipline. And to an employer, that should mean a lot.”

Bush also cast his vote for removing the term ‘disorder’ from post-traumatic stress disorder. “The real problem with post-traumatic stress is not the condition itself,” he said. “The problem is the stigma surrounding the condition – partly because it is mislabeled as a ‘disorder,’ and partly because many people aren’t aware of treatment options. As most doctors today will tell you: Post-traumatic stress is not a disorder. Post-traumatic stress, or PTS, is an injury that can result from the experience of war. And like other injuries, PTS is treatable.”

Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who worked with First Lady Michelle Obama to create the Joining Forces initiative, praised those who stand behind their loved ones as they serve their country.

“I am always inspired by the strength and the resilience of our military families,” Biden said. “Our military families have done so much for our country, and each of us can do something in return. That’s why nearly three years ago, First Lady Obama and I created Joining Forces, to encourage all Americans to support and honor our military families. Since that time, America has stepped up in our workplaces, our schools and our communities.”

Biden said civilian employers have realized what hiring a veteran does for its workforce. “Companies big and small are stepping up not just because it’s the patriotic thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do. They know that our (servicemembers) are some of the highest-skilled, hardest-working employees they will ever have.”

Retired U.S. Marines Corps Gen. Peter Pace – who was the first Marine to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – took the stage with Blackstone chairman and CEO Steve Schwarzman. Blackstone has pledged to hire 50,000 veterans and has mobilized its portfolio companies to hire more than 10,000 veterans.

Schwarzman said that hiring veterans is “the moral thing to do,” adding that every U.S. company of significant size can be doing what Blackstone is doing.

Pace called post-9/11 veterans the “leaders of the future... the men and women who our grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look to for leadership.”

The summit also included two panels focusing on obstacles faced by veterans and military families, and private and non-profit sector responsibilities and opportunities.

In the first panel, attendees heard from some notable names: retired Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli, now the CEO of One Mind Research; Fisher House chairman/CEO Kenneth Fisher; Student Veterans of America Executive Director D. Wayne Robinson; and John Thiel, the head of Merrill Lynch.

Chiarelli called for more federal funding for brain trauma research, saying that if a private-sector CEO threw the same small amount of money at a multi-million dollar problem, the CEO wouldn’t keep his job very long.

Fisher asked for potential employers to reach out to wounded veterans while they are in the recovery process to start the mentoring process that much earlier. Robinson urged employers to be selfish and ask what the return on investment from hiring veterans is.

Thiel didn’t mince words when talking about his company’s aggressive efforts to hire veterans. “We’re doing this because this is a business opportunity for us, as well as doing the right thing,” he said. “Merrill Lynch has had a 45-year history of hiring veterans very successfully. They transition very well into our roles as advisors to clients with the maturity, the perspective and the leadership they have.”

In the second panel, Jacksonville, Fla., Mayor Alvin Brown said that veterans deserve to come home, get a job and take care of their families and explained mechanisms his city has in place to help with that, including working with companies and businesses in the city on veterans hiring programs. “My goal us to make Jacksonville the most military, veteran city in America,” Brown said.

Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, said there is a need to “cross the chasm to enable all Americans to find ways to support our veterans." Team Rubicon CEO Jake Wood called veteran integration into the civilian world, the rate of veterans suicide and traumatic brain injuries a “national emergency.” Texas Tech University Chancellor Kent Hance – whose university has increased its student veterans staff personnel from one person to 12 since he arrived – pledged that veterans who set foot on campus with a skill learned during their military service, such as serving as medic, aren’t forced to relearn those skills in the classroom.

And Joe DePinto, president and CEO of 7-Eleven Inc., said one of the main solutions to helping veterans transition is a rather simple one. If we provide jobs (to veterans), the other stuff – it’s going to take a lot of work – it will work itself out,” he said. “I truly believe that.”

Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division Director Verna Jones was one of four Legion staffers at the summit. “I think it was important The American Legion was represented here today because we’re talking about all the issues we work with on a daily basis: employment, education and training, benefits,” she said. “We’re talking about medical care and even their position on post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s important that we get the views of other organizations in the same kind of business that we’re in, and be able to move forward with that information and with what we know from our own results.”

To view video from the summit, click here.