Many veterans struggle to find their footing when joining the workforce. Often, they don’t know where to find someone to talk to who can relate to their experience, especially when they’re just getting started.
“Some veterans coming in are hesitant to acknowledge that they are veterans,” Jeff Cole, Assistant Vice President of Technology and National President of the AT&T Veterans employee group, said. “They fear that they will be perceived with only the negative stereotypes of military service.”
A Marine Corps veteran, Jeff volunteered with community outreach programs long before he joined AT&T. It started with the Marine Corps Reserves Toys for Tots program, where toy donations went to families who may not have been able to afford their own. Jeff was also a regular mentor at schools, thanks to the encouragement he received from his own mentorship experience.
“Altogether, it stuck. It gives me good energy to join opportunities where I can give back.”
The History of AT&T Veterans
Joining the AT&T Veterans employee group was a natural decision for Jeff. The group itself started in the 80s, when Vietnam veterans looked for more opportunities to share their stories and experiences.
“The founding members naturally realized, ‘Hey, this is a good thing, being able to share our backgrounds.’ It evolved into helping other veterans and organizing as a nonprofit.”
Today, AT&T Veterans stands strong with around 8,000 members spanning 40 chapters across the country. All are welcome into the employee group including veteran family members, friends and allies. They share a vision of acting as the best corporate servants of veterans, veteran families and communities. Their motto? “Serving those who’ve served our nation.”
“We want to be engaged in giving back to veterans. To accomplish our mission, we aligned ourselves to four pillars:
When we look for new opportunities, we identify how they align with those pillars.”
Each chapter of the employee group has local community goals. Several larger initiatives stay consistent throughout the year, including:
- An annual scholarship program for veterans and children of veterans. The employee group provides up to $70,000 dollars per year for scholarships.
- Raising visibility, education and awareness of Memorial Day with Carry The Load.
- Putting together care packages for those who are currently serving with Operation Gratitude.
“One of our primary focuses is our work with Get to Zer0, which is a national AT&T Veterans initiative aimed at suicide prevention and awareness. This is a big challenge in the veteran community, one that sees up to 20 suicides per day. We’re looking to get committed volunteers who are on top of different areas around suicide prevention awareness efforts.
“Getting more engaged with other employee groups like LEAGUE, Ability and Professionals 50 Forward is also important. These groups also fight suicide challenges within their communities; we can learn and share knowledge with each other.”
Finding a Way Forward
“We look for AT&T benefits gaps for veteran, active reserve, National Guard, military spouse or partners that need to be addressed. What does it mean to receive differential pay when you are mobilized? How are benefits covered and what are the additional benefits you have as a veteran? We’re looking to help with that transition from military to business, help them get engaged.
“Mentoring is a foundational aspect of what we do. Many mentees often have questions on what to focus on in the business world. They want visibility on the breadth of skills they have so they don’t feel restricted to their job title.”
With the COVID pandemic, AT&T Veterans is exploring new ways to continue growing group efforts. Planned events such as the annual New York City Veterans Day Parade in November have gone virtual. Despite a challenging year, Jeff feels confident knowing that members of the group haven’t lost their energy and creativity in serving others.
“There’s a lot of passion in our membership. The chapters are doing new things every week and it’s exciting to see how engaged they are in giving back to veteran communities and families during COVID. We wouldn’t be here without our members.”Learn More About Veterans at AT&T