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Remarks by President George W. Bush at “Mission Transition”
U.S. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, WASHINGTON, D.C.
Thank you, Tom. I appreciate you hosting us at the U.S. Chamber – and especially being able to partner with the Hiring our Heroes program, which as you just heard has been effective. It takes a lot to drag Laura and me back to the swamp. (Laughter.) You know, being grandparents is pretty comfortable. After all, our grandchild is the smartest grandchild in America. (Laughter.) But supporting our vets is really important, and I’m honored to be back here to do so.
I know the Secretary of Labor will be here soon; I want to thank him for coming. I want to thank Jim Nicholson, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, a key member of my Cabinet, for being here. Admiral Sandy Winnefield, United States Navy, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, we’re thrilled you’re here, Admiral. Thank you for your service.
I want to thank the active duty members of our military and vets who are here. Stand up – I need to look at you. (Applause.) There you go. (Applause.)
Of course, you heard from Margaret. So, we poached Margaret from the Chamber. (Laughter.) Prior to that, she was the Secretary of Education – did a really good job. She is helping us at the Bush Center on the campus of SMU in Dallas, Texas, to foster smart policy and to take action that helps change peoples’ lives. That’s what I think the post-Presidency ought to be about.
Like Margaret, Laura and I – who, by the way, you’re going to hear from here shortly – are still passionate about education reform. I ran for Governor of Texas because of education. I remember going to my mother. I said, “Mother, I’m going to run for Governor of Texas against Ann Richards, because I believe so strongly in education reform.” She said, “You’re not going to win.” (Laughter.) Gee, Mom. (Laughter.) So at the Bush Center, we defend accountability in the public schools, and we’re helping principals become the leaders they should be.
We believe women will lead the freedom movement in the Middle East. I believe strongly that freedom is a universal right. I believe freedom is the only way for peace. And I believe women will lead the movement. And therefore, we’re helping women in Tunisia and Egypt become leaders to help change those societies for the sake of peace.
We’re working with Presidential Libraries. There are some good assets in our part of the world – the Presidential Libraries of LBJ, 41, 42, and 43. That would be Dad, Clinton, and me along with Lyndon Johnson. So we launched the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program. Here’s what we do: we take talented professionals from all over the county, all walks of life, all fields of work, and developed a curriculum that will sharpen their leadership skills by using case studies at each Presidential library.
Those who have served in our military have a special knack for leadership, and a special place in my heart. You know I’m asked a lot, do you miss being President? I miss some things about being President. I miss having a shower on the airplane. (Laughter.) I miss the pastry chef. (Laughter.) I miss the people with whom I served. I don’t miss much else. I’m comfortable in my life. But there is one thing that I miss, and that is looking in the eyes of men and women who volunteered to serve our country and saluting them. I miss being their Commander in Chief. And so I have dedicated the rest of my life to supporting the vets with whom I served.
After 9/11, as a Vietnam-era guy, it was really startling to think about the response of our country, when millions volunteered. And now they’re coming home and trying to re-enter society. Over the next five years, more than one million of these brave men and women will complete their military service and transition to civilian life. And the question is: can we help in a meaningful way?
They’ll face challenges really different from the battlefield. Some feel misunderstood or underappreciated – too many, desperately so. They struggle to find the right kind of help for their specific situation. And, at a rate even higher than the rest of our country, post-9/11 vets have difficulty finding meaningful careers.
So the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative is helping Americans better understand our veterans, more effectively support our veterans, and take advantage of the opportunity to employ our veterans. That is our mission. It is led by Army Colonel Miguel Howe, special operator and a fine man who you’ll hear from later on. He’s being helped by a Marine, Matt Amidon. And I’m pleased to report they get along pretty well. (Laughter.)
I want to thank those of you who have helped Miguel and Matt get our programs started. One such sage, a dear friend of mine, is General Pete Pace – the 16th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Chairman of our Advisory Council. Fortunately, Pete is one of those kinds of guys who does not believe in retirement – once a Marine, always a Marine. General, it’s good to see you.
Our work started with a simple realization: support for our troops since 9/11 has been overwhelming, but we really haven’t asked important questions like who are these vets, and what do they need? So in an effort to better know our veterans and understand how to help them, the Bush Institute partnered with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. We completed one of the most comprehensive studies ever conducted of post-9/11 vets.
We learned some hopeful things. 82 percent of post-9/11 veterans said that they would recommend military service to someone considering signing up. And when asked if they were proud of their service, 94 percent said yes.
We also found some troubling statistics. 84 percent of the veterans say that the American public has “little awareness” of the challenges facing them and their families. It turns out most Americans agree: 71 percent of Americans said they do not understand the problems facing our veterans. We call this the “civilian-military divide.”
One lesson of our research is that the divide is exacerbated by public perceptions that the veteran is either a hero, or to be pitied. Most veterans don’t consider themselves heroes or victims. They see themselves as Americans who took on a tough job and did it well. They don’t want lavish celebrations or expressions of condolences. While it never hurts to say thank you, that’s not really the point. What most veterans want is to have their service understood and appreciated for what it is: a formative experience in their lives and a source of skills and values that prepare them to succeed in civilian life.
When Americans in uniform returned from Vietnam, they were treated shabbily.
No matter what you think about that war, the treatment of our vets was disgraceful. It was a shameful period. Since 9/11, there’s been plenty of healthy debate about the war on terror, as there should be. But Americans have put their political views aside to support our troops and vets. More than 45,000 not-for-profit organizations in our country have a mission at least partly related to serving veterans. That’s a big 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. And while these organizations have good intentions, some deliver better results than others.
So the Bush Institute has undertaken a project to help measure the effectiveness of these NGOs. We’ve studied data including number of veterans served and the quality and consistency of outcomes produced. To help refine our analysis, we conducted case studies on some of the leading, most effective organizations. We have released toolkits that organizations and funders can use to achieve higher standards and match good intentions with good results.
Our study of veterans revealed that post-9/11 veterans face even higher rates of unemployment than their civilian counterparts, and that’s their top concern. Many of the most effective veteran-serving non-profits have recognized and are responding to that priority. In addition to the Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program, ably led by Eric Eversole, we are joined today Hire Heroes USA and American Corporate Partners. And I want to thank you for all you’re doing.
The unemployment problem is especially intense for younger veterans, veterans with combat experience, enlisted veterans without a four-year degree or certification, minorities, and women. Sadly, the costs of unemployment are not only financial. Studies show that veterans without a steady job are more susceptible to other problems, like depression, addiction, homelessness, and suicide.
We’ve studied and analyzed the most significant barriers to veteran employment. One problem is that veterans and employers both have a hard time translating military experience. There’s a language barrier. Say a person applies for a job on the form where it lists Skill Sets, he puts “sniper,” Likely, the Vice President of Human Relations is going to say, “We don’t need one this year.” (Laughter.) Had that person but on the application form that I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with pressure, that I’m a team player, I’m loyal to a cause greater than self, I can follow instructions, I’m a responsible citizen – that Vice President would have been more likely to say, that’s the kind of person we want working for us.
I’ve employed a lot of people – some would say too many (laughter) in my time, and I’ve learned is that skills are teachable. What matters most is the character of the human being – the values, the work ethic, and that sense of personal responsibility. And this is what our veterans bring. And this is what all of us in this room are going to help employers understand. When a resume says “United States military,” to me it says you can count on the applicant to be loyal and disciplined, a team player, and a proven leader.
Across our country, businesses are recognizing that hiring veterans is not only the right thing to do; it is a smart thing to do. Part of our job at the Bush Center is to call attention to those folks. Many companies have started innovative programs, and some of them are here. And by the way, we’re not only talking about vets; we’re talking about their spouses as well. So I want to give a shout-out to 7-Eleven, Bank of America, Blackstone, GE, JC Penney, JP Morgan Chase, LaQuinta, Prudential, Uber, USAA, and Walmart. There are a lot of other companies, no question. These are some that have come to our attention with innovative programs that are more than just a program – they’re actually providing work that lasts, and we thank them for that.
Bank of America-Merrill Lynch is one company that understands hiring vets more than a moral imperative; it’s good for the bottom line. I want to talk about Sergeant Kyle White. He who took advantage of the GI bill and graduated with a degree in finance from UNC-Charlotte. He got hired by Merrill Lynch as a Product Specialist. What he calls himself is a Product Sergeant. (Laughter.) Every day at the office, he brings to bear what he calls the “bag of skills” he learned in the military.
I met him in Dallas; he came by. You might have heard of him: he’s a Medal of Honor winner. He put his life on the line to save his buddies. He talked to me about the challenges he faced transitioning. He had what was then diagnosed as PTSD.
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress can be tough on veterans and their families. Another problem is there’s a stigma attached to PTS. Partly because it is mislabeled a “disorder,” and partly because many people aren’t aware of the treatment options, some veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress are reluctant to seek help. As a result of this misunderstanding, post-traumatic stress is another barrier to employment. It’s something that we’re trying to help employers understand, so that we can make the results on the job front even better.
Most doctors will tell you post-traumatic stress is not a disorder. It’s an injury that can result from the experience of battle. It’s treatable. Post-traumatic stress, or PTS, is an injury that can result from the experience of battle. And like other wounds of war, PTS is treatable. The military and medical communities have made progress in developing effective ways to deal with PTS.
So therefore at the Bush Center, we’re starting an effort to Drop the “D” and help people better understand that we’re talking about an injury. We want to make sure that the vets receiving treatment are not viewed as damaged goods. They are not mentally shattered. They are people who got hurt defending our country. Employers would not hesitate to hire a talented employee getting treated for high blood pressure or recovering from a broken arm. And they should not hesitate to hire a vet getting treated for PTS.
One of the leaders in this area is retired General Pete Chiarelli, who was head of the Army when I was President. He’s a good man who is on our Advisory Council. He has made it his mission to spread the word about the science behind PTS and the medical treatment that veterans can receive.
At the Bush Center, work with pioneering programs like Pete’s One Mind, NYU Langone’s Cohen Military Family Clinic, the National Intrepid Center of Excellence, and others to address challenges caused by PTS. Our goal is to eliminate the invisible wounds of war as barriers to employment and empower our veterans to reach their full potential and therefore empower our country.
To help veterans overcome these obstacles to employment, find the resources they need, and navigate the complicated path to meaningful civilian careers, today we are releasing the Veteran Employment Transition Roadmap. Or as the military would say, VET Roadmap. (Laughter.)
We’ve developed it in partnership with Hiring our Heroes and Deloitte, and starting this morning veterans can download it for free at bushcenter.org. The Roadmap, which Colonel Howe and Eric Eversole will walk you through later, breaks down the job search into three clear phases. It outlines essential steps and provides vetted resources designed to help veterans succeed and lead as civilians.
America’s veterans have taken on the toughest tasks imaginable. Now it’s our turn to continue to help. Laura and I are thrilled to be here. We thank you for your efforts. There’s no doubt in my mind we can succeed. God bless.