“You speak the same language,” said a military veteran who works at the University of Virginia, in explaining the need to network with other employee veterans. They are often going through the same things and share similar experiences, said Mike Vanderweide, a Marine veteran and senior project manager in Facilities Management.
Faculty and staff who have served in the military are being recruited for a new mission: to form a long-term support network on Grounds. The U.Va. Military Veterans Community, known as “U.Va. Mil Vets,” will launch a survey of veterans Monday, as well as a membership drive.
The Office of Equal Opportunity Programs held a reception for staff and faculty veterans during the University’s Veterans Day commemoration last fall, said Rachel Spraker, the office’s affirmative action specialist. While the vets were meeting one another, they decided to follow up on the idea of forming a networking group.
Some volunteered to form a leadership advisory committee, and 98 people signed up to join the network.
“The primary purposes of the group are to provide networking opportunities, education and informational resources, support and community-building, as well as an opportunity to serve as advocates for the veteran community with University leadership,” Spraker said.
The survey seeks to better understand military veterans’ experiences at work and to find out what is important to them. Organizers estimate it should take about 20 minutes to complete, and it is anonymous unless employees choose to identify themselves for follow-up contact from the advisory group.
The survey will be available through April 11. Those who complete it can then register for weekly prizes, including tickets to U.Va. baseball games, U.Va. athletics clothing and gift cards to the U.Va. Bookstore, thanks to Equal Opportunity Programs, the U.Va. Bookstore and the athletics department.
Aggregated survey results will be posted on the U.Va. Mil Vets website.
Vanderweide, a company commander in the Marine Corps’ 4th Combat Engineer Battalion who served for 11 years and went on three combat tours in Iraq, joined the group’s advisory team after attending the Veterans’ Day celebration.
“It was a good opportunity to see a lot of other veterans with similar experiences and the same concerns,” he said.
He’s excited to get more people to join the Mil Vets group, he said, and has already created the Collab website to highlight currently available resources and start discussion forums.
“U.Va. has made a lot of efforts to accommodate military veterans, but the people who know best are the vets,” Vanderweide said. “We want to give feedback to the University administration.”
Kyle Bowman, business administrator in the College of Arts & Sciences, agrees. A traffic management coordinator with the Army, he coordinated troops and equipment movements during Operation Desert Storm between Europe and Bosnia while assigned to the 14th Transportation Battalion in Vincenza, Italy.
He first started working at U.Va. as a temp, and that helped in his transition from military to civilian work, he said.
“It’s hard to correlate military service into a resumé,” he said, adding that vets could use help with that. The University has a good orientation for new employees, but it should have a component to address the needs of veterans, he suggested.
Bowman and Vanderweide used retirement planning as an example of support that would be helpful. They said veterans must make decisions about how to coordinate U.Va.’s retirement plan with their military retirement plans.
Employees who serve in the National Guard or National Reserve are another group who could use help if they have difficulty returning to work after a time of active duty, Bowman said.
The U.Va. Mil Vets advisory group and the list of those interested in networking come from a cross-section of academic and Medical Center faculty and staff.
Because reporting one’s veteran status is optional, the total number of U.Va. military veterans is unknown, Spraker said. Of those who have volunteered their status, 330 work in the Academic Division and 201 in the Medical Center, together making up 3½ percent of faculty and staff.
The group plans to host more networking events, identify and circulate information about community resources and foster online discussion forums. Equal Opportunity Programs will continue to provide organizational support to the group.
Forming the network dovetails with the University’s efforts to hire and engage more veterans in the workforce, Spraker said.
The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that almost 1 million veterans will leave military service by 2016. National initiatives have already been launched to promote veteran employment.
The federal Joining Forces Initiative has coordinated more than 100 construction employers who have pledged to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years.
In Virginia, the Virginia Values Veterans initiative is working toward helping Virginia employers sharpen their focus on hiring, training and retaining veterans.
“U.Va. has committed to participating in the V3 campaign,” Spraker said, “and is currently working through the process of completing a ‘Vet-Ready Assessment’ for the V3 bronze certification level.”
As a federal contractor, the University will also begin to monitor veteran employment more closely, as a result of new regulations from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.
Beginning in 2015, the University will set an annual benchmark for veteran hiring and expand its recruitment and hiring efforts.