Starbucks will expand benefits for military veterans and their families

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Two years after Starbucks launched its initiative to hire 10,000 veterans and military spouses by 2018 and open dedicated Military Family Stores across the country, the coffee company is announcing additional employee benefits ahead of Veterans Day this week.

Starbucks announced on Monday that it has hired more than 5,500 veterans and military spouses at its stores since 2013, and as a result expects to exceed its goal by the target year of 2018. It also plans to reach 30 Military Family Stores near U.S. military bases next year — stores managed by veterans and military spouses "committed to connecting veterans and families to community and transition resources."

The company's College Achievement Plan, which is a collaboration with Arizona State University to offer full-time and part-time degree opportunities for "partners" (employees), will also expand to include a veteran employee's spouse or child.

Lastly, Starbucks is announcing a new pay-for-service benefit, available to active duty and reservist employees that will cover up to 80 hours of pay each year for service obligations. The benefit will allow service members to get paid time off to ease the transition and travel between their service and the return to work.

Virginia Bergin, director of global responsibility and public policy at Starbucks, and a self-described Army brat herself, told Mashable that the first year of these initiatives was a learning process. Now, the company has a team of four military recruiters and partners with various veterans service organizations, and hiring managers are more adept at finding veterans in the talent pool.

"What started out as a hiring commitment has really evolved into an ambition to help reconnect Americans with service members in the spirit of service," she said. "Seeing how our internal partners who have not had any military affiliation in their lives share the impact of working alongside veterans and military spouses ... has unleashed a much greater ambition for us to think about how we can do this in communities across the country."

Bergin explained that the company wants to change the culture around veterans, and offer a space where partners can be proud to share their stories.

That includes the Military Family Stores, embedded in military communities where veterans, military spouses and their families can feel welcome outside of the base. Here, Starbucks hosts conversations, spouse support groups, space for law services and more.

"There is a truly meaningful benefit to working alongside other military spouses," Katrina Jackson, a shift supervisor at a Starbucks Military Family Store in Tacoma, Washington, told Mashable via email.

"There is a sense of camaraderie there, and an understanding of what [we all] are going through," she said.

Jackson said her husband is leaving for active duty next month, and her coworker's boyfriend is currently deployed. Working together ensures that they can look to one another for support and reassurance.

For all veteran and military spouse partners, Starbucks offers a variety of support services. The coffee company has an affinity group of employees, called the Armed Forces Network, which has 12 chapters and focuses on mentorship.

Every Starbucks employee who is a veteran gets an Armed Forces Network member as a "military immersion partner" to help with the transition to civilian working life.

And then there are the new benefits — the College Achievement Plan and the pay-for-service benefit.

Many veterans already have access to G.I. benefit, which offers tuition assistance, but extending the College Achievement Plan to their families, Bergin said, is a way for Starbucks to say, "We recognize not just your service, but what your whole family went through during the time of your service, and this is our way to honor that as well."

The pay-for-service benefit is an attempt to further Starbucks as a vet-friendly company by listening to partners serving in the National Guard and the reserves, who said it was difficult to use vacation time or weekends to leave for training.

More could be coming in the future.

"As we continue to learn what our veteran and military spouse partners need, we'll continue to evolve the support for them," Bergin said.

Veteran unemployment is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of people in the United States. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest data shows that in 2014, 573,000 veterans were unemployed.

Starbucks isn't the only company to try to tackle this issue and offer such benefits to veterans and their families.

The company, Bergin explained, is just getting started.

"We want to make sure Starbucks isn't just a welcoming place for them, but the country is a welcoming place for them to come home and have a smooth transition to civilian life," Bergin said.

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