I’ve worked at Duke in various capacities since 2010, so I’m familiar with the environment at the University. The Duke University and Healthcare System is the third largest employer in North Carolina, the ninth most populous state in our union. I outlined federal employment protections for veterans on my own website after a few years of troubling experiences at Duke, both my own and those shared with me by other veterans there who have asked to remain anonymous.

For veterans, including students, the experience can be hit or miss. I’ve written about my experience and some of the experiences shared with me here and here and I’ve blogged about them on this site here and here. To be fair, I’ve reported more negative experiences because they evidence cracks in the system through which vets fall and which need to be closed. Student veterans who have had good experiences are success stories, what we used to call “Sustains” when I was in the Army. Sustains don’t need to be fixed, but “Improves,” what we called flaws in the execution of a mission, do need to be fixed. To fix the Improves, we need to know our battle space.

Duke University’s Affirmative Action Plan (AAP) for Veterans and Individuals with Disabilities has adopted the federally determined benchmark of 6.9% for tracking purposes. According to Duke’s own VETS-4212 form, for the twelve month period ending August 31, 2015, Duke employed 30,254 individuals, 650 (2.1%) of which were protected veterans, and made 3,865 new hires, 91 (2.3%) of which were protected veterans.

Only 650 individual employees, or just over 2% of Duke’s workforce, have self-identified as protected veterans.

In an unbiased system, approximately seven percent of a given workforce would be made up of protected veterans. Contractors can adopt the DoL’s benchmark or establish their own, but in that case must make their calculations public. That Duke only employs about a third of the number of protected veterans established as a hiring benchmark suggests a system with problems in either recruitment or retention. In other words, something in the environment at Duke is somehow either discouraging veterans from applying or forcing them out once they are hired. To be fair, the problem may be that veterans are not self-identifying, either because Duke is noncompliant in the requirement to invite self-identification, or because veterans choose not to identify for some reason, like internalized stigma, for example.

Data like this does not allow us to say an employer is or is not a place that does not welcome veterans. All we can say is that there is an imbalance, but imbalances do reflect something amiss. A workforce with more veterans than the average would suggest an employer actively seeking out and retaining veterans. In Duke’s case, that the number is below the average suggests it is more unwelcoming of veterans, however welcoming it might be to some veterans once they are employed there. The Department of Labor helps employers like Duke address this imbalance by requiring certain interventions to help diversify their workforce by improving their recruitment of protected veterans. It is not clear if any of those interventions have ever been effective.

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