Peter A. Gudmundsson, who was a Marine artillery officer, is chief executive of RecruitMilitary, a national veteran recruiting company.
Last week, the House of Representatives unanimously approved the Hire More Heroes Act, which would exempt businesses from counting newly hired military veterans toward the 50-worker threshold at which they must provide health insurance or pay a fine under the Affordable Care Act. Although the bill calls veterans “heroes,” it treats them as victims.
The logic behind the bill is simple: Why not give small businesses seeking to avoid the ACA’s “employer mandate” an incentive to hire veterans, who can get health-care coverage through Tricare and the Department of Veterans Affairs? And like most initiatives aimed at assisting military veterans, the bill is well intentioned. But as a matter of public policy, it is based on a faulty premise, sets a counterproductive goal and, on top of it all, is poorly named.
Americans may be shocked to learn that there is no veterans’ unemployment crisis. The unemployment rate in 2014 for post-9/11 veterans was 7.2 percent, the lowest level in seven years of tracking these veterans.
Although post-9/11 veterans did have a higher rate of unemployment than the overall workforce last year — which was at 6.2 percent — the disparity is more attributable to the relative youth of those in this group rather than their military experience. In fact, compared with civilians in the same age ranges, post-9/11 veterans experienced lower rates of unemployment.
Meanwhile, the considerable resources that federal and state governments expend on direct programs and incentives for veterans’ employment produce mixed results at best. That’s because proponents of initiatives such as the Hire More Heroes Act fail to understand why and how companies hire talent in the real world.
Managers do not hire people to avoid costs or pursue incentives. The most powerful force motivating firms to hire veterans is the need to find the right employees. Although savvy companies may apply for tax benefits or other perks tied to hiring veterans, in most cases they do so for personnel they would have hired anyway.
Companies live or die based on their ability to find intelligent, hard-working employees. It would be foolish to hire someone based on a financial incentive if that person were not likely to excel; the costs would outweigh the gains. Quality drives hiring, not a health-care head-count exemption.
The irony is that one of the few topics that can unite both sides of the aisle in Congress is veterans’ affairs. Yet lawmakers are harnessing bipartisan good intentions to pass a bill whose most significant legacy would be to increase the federal deficit by nearly $900 million. There is simply no need for Congress to turn veterans into a cynical “exemption” in the otherwise flourishing market for high-quality human capital. The idea that veterans require or deserve special treatment is anachronistic, counterproductive and insulting.
Congress could better serve veterans in other ways. It is time to set aside the simplistic “veterans as victims” and “veterans as heroes” narratives that have hijacked our national conversation about veterans’ employment. Instead of creating incentives, Congress can support veterans’ employment by aggressively recruiting the best and brightest Americans to become soldiers, sailors, airmen, guardsmen and Marines; investing in high-quality training for active-duty and reserve forces; and encouraging civilian understanding of the transferrable strengths that our nation’s finest bring to our economy.
U.S. business leaders recognize that the military is perhaps the best institution in the nation for teaching highly sought qualities such as leadership, teamwork, mission orientation and integrity. Companies that have invested in veteran employees thrive not because they are philanthropic but because they are making good business decisions. They look to veterans as sources of strength and opportunity, not pity and charity. The transitions from military to civilian careers can be challenging, but they are not that different from career changes experienced by many Americans.
Our veterans merit our respect and gratitude. They deserve coaching and guidance as they transition to the civilian workforce. But they do not need another form of tax-code charity to excel in civilian careers.
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