Hiring Veterans - Addressing Myths about PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)
When it comes to hiring, a stigma against veterans exists around PTSD. Even though veterans have been proven to be an asset to the country and to employers upon their transition to the civilian workforce. Employers are concerned that a potential new hire might not fit in because of PTSD symptoms causing issues in work performance, attendance and possibly even creating an environment of conflict with co-workers.
Approximately 250,000 people leave the military each year and studies show that between 14-20 percent of transitioning veterans have symptoms of PTSD. The government is keenly aware of this statistic and have services available to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These services are provided to the veteran who needs them, free of charge. According to Military.com:
“Each VA medical center has PTSD specialists who provide treatment for Veterans with PTSD. Plus, the VA provides nearly 200 specialized PTSD treatment programs.”
To specifically address questions employers may have about veterans and issues with PTSD, I connected with a former colleague and one of the foremost psychologists in the veteran mental health space, Dr. Tracy Neal-Walden, Chief Clinical Officer for the Cohen Veterans Network for her thoughts on employers’ concerns on veterans and PTSD.
Me: What should employers expect from a person with PTSD?
Tracy: Symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress vary in intensity and severity from individual to individual so employers should not expect that all veterans will react the same nor should they assume that all veterans have PTSD. Individuals who do have PTSD may prefer to work in an environment in which they have awareness of their surroundings. For instance, having a desk that faces the door vs their back facing the door. Some individuals with PTSD may be easily startled or may avoid areas or things which remind them of the trauma such as large crowds, driving in certain areas, or loud noises, etc.
Me: What should employers expect from National Guard and Reservists who return to their jobs with PTSD?
Tracy: The same as above and it is important to note that not all who experience a traumatic event are diagnosed with PTSD. So, employers should be careful to note assume that the member has PTSD. However, the employer may notice that the National Guard or Reserve member may seem different after returning from a deployment. They may not be as talkative or engaging or in some cases might seem irritable. This is a typical adjustment. Most members do not wish to discuss their deployment experiences with those who have not been deployed and/or they may not be able to do so due to security concerns. I highly recommend that employers meet with returning Guard or Reservists to welcome them back and to let them know their options if they do wish to talk to someone such as the organization’s EAP (employee assistance program), healthcare options, or not for profit organizations such as the Cohen Veterans Network.”
Me: Why does employment play such an important role in the recovery of transitioning service members with PTSD?
Tracy: Employment plays an instrumental role in the recovery of transitioning service members, in general. Employment aids in giving an individual a sense of purpose, establishing routine, and of course decreases financial stress. Those who serve in the military are used to structure, routine, and some degree of financial security thus it is vital to the well-being to many transitioning veterans to maintain this. This is especially important for those who may have a behavioral health concern such as PTSD.
Me: What about violence and PTSD? What should employers know?
Tracy: Employers should be aware that most veterans and individuals with PTSD are NOT violent. While PTSD may be a risk factor for violence it is not a causal factor. What is more common is for those with PTSD to experience anger. Increased anger coupled with increased alcohol usage are better predictors of violence than a diagnosis of PTSD alone. Thus, the important factor here is to make resources available should employees need them.
Great advice for employers who are considering hiring veterans and anyone who may be suffering from PTSD because PTSD it is not just limited to the veteran population. According to Psychiatry.org:
“PTSD affects approximately 3.5 percent of U.S. adults every year, and an estimated one in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD in their lifetime.”
That works out to between eight to ten million Americans each year and that was before the pandemic! There are far more people in the civilian population who suffer from PTSD than the veteran population.
The isolation and fear of the virus has impacted us all. The demand for mental health services has increased by nearly 52% according to the National Council for Behavioral Health. Each employer in the country faces workers who have potential to encounter PTSD.
The military is constantly looking for symptoms of PTSD in service members as they prepare for transition. How much support does the average American have to deal with PTSD that may surface in his or her life? Is anyone looking for symptoms of PTSD in the average citizen?
As an employer, realize that PTSD is everywhere, and it is even possible you have someone on staff who is currently experiencing some symptoms. Providing access to resources through your health plan and working with your staff member and other organizations like the Job Accommodation Network to create job accommodations can help to alleviate stress caused around PTSD and the veteran population.