Some go the extra mile to hire America’s heroes

The News Tribune The News Tribune The News TribuneNovember 21, 2013 

Veterans receive career counseling at a 2012 job fair in Detroit.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Sometimes it takes a little imagination to reap the benefits of hiring wounded warriors. A new FBI experiment offers an example.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation faces a tough challenge: tracking down child pornographers and child rapists who do their loathsome business on the Internet. It often takes skilled computer forensics work to trace these predators to the rotting logs they lurk under.

What it doesn’t take is a perfectly functioning body. Injured veterans can be as good as anyone at computer work, and they’ve already established their capacity for loyalty, success under pressure and ability to focus on a mission.

As reported in the Seattle Times this week, the FBI has enlisted 17 injured special-ops veterans in a pilot project that will turn them loose on online child predators.

Oskar Zepeda, a former Joint Base Lewis-McChord Ranger, is one of the 17. Although he was severely injured in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber in 2011, Zepeda remains quite capable of sorting through gigabytes of data to pick up the trails of child-sex criminals.

He liked kicking in the doors of bad guys, he said. Now he’s kicking in another kind of door to catch another kind of bad guy.

The FBI and Department of Homeland Security are jointly running the program; they anticipate ramping up to 200 injured veterans over the next five years.

That’s a pittance compared to the overall number of wounded warriors: According to the U.S. Census, Washington alone has roughly 55,000 veterans who are at least 30 percent disabled. Pierce County has about 12,300.

But the FBI’s creativity should be instructive for other employers – public agencies, companies and nonprofits. These veterans can excel in a host of jobs. Employers who go out of their way to connect injured warriors with work are likely to be rewarded with exceptional productivity. They’re also eligible for tax credits that run as high as $9,600 per hire.

Some companies – including Boeing – have distinguished themselves in the hiring of veterans. Holdouts might be reluctant, though, because of myths about military personnel who’ve suffered from the invisible wounds of post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injuries.

Contrary to malicious legends and Hollywood stereotypes, combat veterans are not human time bombs who explode at slight provocation. Some may have difficulties with concentration or hearing, but those problems lend themselves to simple remedies.

For employers, the greatest payoff from hiring heroes is intangible: the knowledge that they’ve done the right thing. By finding places for veterans who’ve sacrificed their bodies for their country, employers serve the country themselves – and serve people who deserve much from their fellow citizens.

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