Bridging the Veteran Culture Gap


I was working on a project with a coworker and we had this slight communication gap.

“Ya know, digits?”  I am sure I had the blankest stare because she looked at me again and said, “ya know, digitized form?” Again, I gave a blank stare. Nothing was computing in my head about what she was asking. Again, I must have given the same look and she broke it down even more. “Is the form in an electronic state like a .PDF? So we can fill it out electronically instead of writing in our requirements.”  “Oh yes! I will email it to you right away!”

That was one of my most difficult conversations, not because the topic of an electronic form was so complicated, but because this was one veteran (me from getting out of the Army in 2000) and a new veteran (got out of the Army in 2014.)  It became clear to me that our language experiences had changed over time. The vocabulary and language that I used in the military was not the same as my fellow Veteran of current day – and we wonder why we have problems communicating among ourselves as veterans much less what happens between the “civilian” world and the military too.” It is almost like living in two entirely different worlds.  The reality of it is they are two different cultures.

What I hope to propose is that here are some suggestions as to how to bridge that culture gap or at least to begin to make some progress of closing the communications gap if there is to be any progress made towards integrating more veterans into the Federal Civilian workforce.

  1. Jobs – it may not be just a matter of helping new veterans to have resumes and use certain keyword translations but how about educating those who are doing the hiring to learn what the military terms are for translation. How do you accomplish this? Put the military keywords into the job descriptions that match the language terms that the new veterans know and use. Train those who are doing the hiring to understand the terms being used by the military/veteran so the onus is not completely on the perspective employee to do all the translating of experience.
  2. Program partnerships – pick a program or two within DOD, (my familiarity with the Army JAG Corps) for instance, partner with the JAG Corps to work with them in exit strategy of soldiers in that field, the terms that they use in the military in comparison with terms used in the civilian job descriptions so that both are aware of how job descriptions translate and thus the resumes can reflect the terms used for job openings. This could be done in a prototype run and then work through other critical skill MOS/job vacancies throughout the Federal workforce. When I left the military in 2000 I applied at several law firms in the Dallas area. Their impression of my legal experience was negated even though I worked for the largest law firm in the world. The Army uses the same case law for instance; we followed the same Supreme Court rulings, etc. So why would there not be some communications with the legal community in general that our experiences translate over to experience in the civilian world?
  3. Veteran Groups – Liaison with various Veteran groups for outreach.
  4. Design some sample job description translations that veterans can use to translate their skills into civilian job KSA language.

The bottom line is that all we really need to focus on is making sure that everyone is talking at least the same language and if we are not then we need to make those changes so that everyone involved understands and we aren’t missing the communication gap and becoming frustrated at being misunderstood. If there is any hope to include more Veterans in the Federal Civilian workforce then closing the culture gap will be a great start!

Eva Fulton is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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