Veterans Causes Gain Ground in Corporate Image Campaigns

By Sandra I. Erwin

Helping military veterans transition into civilian life is expected to become a booming industry as the Army begins to downsize.  
Every year 300,000 service members on average leave the military. With the Army and Marine Corps projected to cut nearly 100,000 troops by 2017, potentially there’ll be 500,000 new veterans who will be rejoining civilian society each year.  
Corporations, particularly in the defense industry, expect to not only increase hiring of veterans but also boost charitable giving to nonprofits that help vets get jobs and housing, says Fred Wellman, a retired Army officer and president of ScoutComms, a public-relations firm whose clients include several defense contractors. 
“With limited programs and declining acquisition dollars, defense companies have to define themselves and tell their stories better,” he says.
Increasingly companies seek to support veterans charities as part of their PR strategies, he says.  Wellmans’s agency has been advising companies on where to steer their charity dollars. With the rising awareness of unemployed and homeless military veterans, corporate social responsibility is one area where defense contractors and commercial companies are becoming more involved, he says. In this arena, “It is important to speak the language correctly.”
One of his clients, Home Depot, donated $30 million on behalf of its shareholders over three years for veterans’ housing. The company chose to work with U.S. VETS, which provides transitional housing for homeless veterans. “They’re doing important things,” he says. Companies worry about giving money to phony charities, he said. Just because an organization receives 501-C3 nonprofit status by the IRS does not mean it does what it advertises. “It takes nothing to get that designation,” says Wellman. 
By unofficial accounts, there are more than 12,000 nonprofits that focus on the military and on veterans, he says. Companies want to pick the ones that “actually make a difference,” he says. "Many companies want to do more than attend a celebrity gala, but make donations that are impactful."
Wellman expects that more defense firms will spend their PR dollars supporting veterans’ causes as the population of ex-combatants grows and the U.S. government’s resources become more strained. There are today 22.5 million veterans in the United States, and 1.6 million more will emerge in the next four years. “The need is going to grow faster than the money,” Wellman says. 
Major corporations such as Lockheed Martin, General Electric and JP Morgan Chase, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have launched high-profile campaigns to hire veterans, whose jobless rate tends to be higher than the national average.  
“With the drawdown projected for the U.S. military we are going to have more of a problem,” says Tom Wolfe, author of a military-to-civilian guide titled, “Out of Uniform.”  
Wolfe says the unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is above 12 percent, compared to 8.3 percent for non-veterans. He cautions that while many companies pay lip service to veterans, they don’t necessarily deliver on promises of hiring them. “We have thousands of companies that claim that they want to hire veterans, very few actually do because they are not prepared for that culture. With the exception of defense industry, many don’t understand the mindset of military members,” Wolfe says.
Flag and general officers don’t suffer at all, and have no problem getting jobs, but enlisted ranks and mid-level career types in the officer corps see high rates of unemployment, Wolfe says. “The military is expected to shrink by 20 percent three years from now. More will have to be done.” 
Wellman suggest that public-relations work is a good field for vets because many advertising and PR agencies that have clients in defense and aerospace need subject matter experts who can speak the language of the military.  

Topics: Business Trends

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