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Exploring the Challenge of Military Recruitment in the Face of Veterans' Difficulties: Embracing Untapped Potential in Vacant Positions

By: Jim Lorraine

Fifteen years ago, military leaders at the Pentagon recognized military recruitment and sustaining the all-volunteer force as a national security issue. Regrettably, their concerns persist as a lingering issue. Since 1987, there has been a 39 percent decline in active-duty personnel. Additionally, it’s estimated approximately 77% of recruitable US citizens would not be eligible for military service due to physical, intellectual, legal, or medically disqualifying conditions.  As one of the Pentagon leaders looking into the problem, it was clear that securing long-term recruitment and sustainment of the all-volunteer force would only improve with cultural and interdepartmental change.    


We recognized military recruitment would worsen unless friends and families bought into the military again. Our military has long been a family business. Unless actions were taken to solidify veterans, parents, brothers' sisters, aunts, uncles, and friends' confidence that military service provided a lifetime commitment to every veteran's success – it would not improve.   


We recognized that the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) needed to reaffirm that they would support and stand behind every veteran for life. And that the whole government needs to recognize how valuable every veteran is to our success.  


And now, our concern has become a reality. Today, military recruitment has worsened as most military services struggle or fail to reach their recruitment goals. The narrative has focused on the DoD and how changes in standards, messages, bonuses, and culture are needed.   


However, long-term military recruitment success and sustainment of the all-volunteer force requires the DoD to recognize that the VA, veteran service organizations (VSOs), and veterans are their best military recruiters. The VA must do a better job of continuing to pick up where DOD leaves off and fully commit to the well-being of service members and their families – for life.  


In my twenty-plus years of leading national military and veterans service programs both in and out of government, I have witnessed how frustrations with VA bureaucracy and apathy have soured the relationships with many veterans and their families. Consequently, it has ruined any recommendation of military service by those veterans and families to potential military recruits.  


Suicide rates, healthcare wait times, delays in disability compensation, lack of access to care, or not being considered a veteran - as experienced by many National Guard and Reservist - have solidified the opinion that the VA and DoD aren't there for our veterans and their families.  


Together, we can do better.   


Immediate and long-term actions should be taken to create confidence and trust in DoD and VA.   


To help restore veterans' trust in the DOD and the VA in the short term, one step would be for Congress to recognize all National Guard and Reserves as veterans. If you raised your right hand to defend the Nation and made it past training to serve your Nation, you should be counted as a veteran. 


There are far too many convoluted National Guard or Reserve criteria to be considered a veteran today. This status must be amended to be inclusive and better aligned with our Nation's military readiness, which these reserve components help provide. 


Next, the VA must develop an enrollment program for all veterans. This enrollment would recognize veterans' connection to their military band of brothers and sisters and encourage access to earned services. Veterans Affairs only serves and directly communicates with less than 50% of veterans. As a nation, we must revere the small percentage of those who've protected our country, so why can't we get them to access the benefits they have earned and the Nation generously provides? 


To address the national narrative regarding veterans, we must create a national campaign to rebuild trust in our military and tell the success stories of countless veterans who excel daily. Recognize the positive attributes and value of the vast majority of veterans who seek to make our Nation a better place for everyone.  


We must provide concierge service to every veteran and their family as a nation. At the same time, this will improve veterans' experience of the VA and create conditions for veterans recommending military service as an option for the minority of young men and women eligible for recruitment.  


And lastly, recognize the positive attributes and value of the vast majority of veterans who seek to make our Nation a better place for everyone.  


Our Nation must reach a point where family and friends once again recognize that military service is an honor and duty to defend our Nation and an opportunity to establish a strong foundation for personal growth when military service is complete.

About the Author

Jim Lorraine is the president and CEO of America’s Warrior Partnership, a national nonpartisan veterans’ nonprofit. He retired as the Deputy Command Surgeon for the United States Special Operations Command after 22 years of service in the U.S. Air Force as a Flight Nurse with nine combat deployments.

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