• Veterans in The Workforce

    July 03, 2012 by
    Harry Croft M.D.

    Harry Croft M.D.

    With most all troops now out of Iraq, and soon Afghanistan, many of them are dealing with Combat-Related PTSD. For those returning with, as well as those without PTSD, reintegrating in to civilian life can be difficult, and returning back into the workforce can be especially challenging.

    The unemployment rate for veterans ranges from nearly 12.1% to 17%, depending on who is reporting the numbers, and for some (younger soldiers, reservists and guardists) even higher. This far exceeds the national unemployment rate. Even with the military’s provided Transition Assistance Program (TAP) in play, when a veteran returns to civilian culture they are wholly responsible for their own preservation and behavior and must learn to re-socialize themselves for living and working in mainstream society.

    What do veterans need to know about entering the workforce and what do employers need to know about hiring veterans? Here are some tips:

    For Veterans

    –       Recognize what your skill sets are. Your military training proves you’re able to learn, work in groups, accomplish a mission, be a strong leader and be dedicated to what you do.

    –       Understand the differences between the military community (your former job) and the civilian community (job you’re going into). The military recognizes you by your rank, time-in-grade and job description.  The civilian community is different: people dress differently, socialize with co-workers, and things are looser and not always “by the book.”

    –       Learn everything you can about PTSD and better understand why you do what you do.  It’s important to know what your symptoms are, what triggers them and how to cope.  Without the knowledge, you’re likely to get in trouble, be misunderstood, and are far less likely to succeed.

    –       Get yourself a support system. It can be on the web, a mentor, coach, or group of local veterans who are also returning to the workforce.  Communicate with them, ask for help from them, and offer your assistance to other employees who are having trouble.

    For Employers

    –       Understand the veteran, his or her skill sets and the differences in military and civilian culture.  Hire veterans in pairs or groups because they’re used to working that way.

    –       Learn about PTSD so if you hire a veteran dealing with it, you know what the symptoms really are. This will help you understand that the vet is not trying to be disrespectful or obstinate and will help you understand the reasons they sometimes behave the way they do.

    –       Don’t give into the myths, mystique and stigma about veterans with PTSD.  Never will someone with PTSD behave like Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghanistan civilians. He was suffering from much more than just PTSD alone.

    –       Offer veterans you hire someone to talk to in confidence or a situation or way that might enable them to deal with their symptoms more effectively.

    –       Ask yourself why you want to hire a veteran? It shouldn’t be because it’s a tax break, the patriotic thing to do, good for business or because you feel sorry for them. They don’t want to be treated like charity, but given opportunities because they are the right person for the job.

    Only one-fifth of soldiers returning from the combat zone will suffer from PTSD. And PTSD is not “all or none” in severity – some have very mild symptoms, whereas others have more severe ones. But even those with the most severe symptoms can be treated and can become very productive and successful employees.

    There’s no doubt that veterans can make for some of the best employees in an organization because of the extensive leadership training they received in the military.

    In the interest of being a viable part of the solution to veterans’ unemployment and homelessness, companies need to strongly consider developing a plan that gradually assimilates veterans into the civilian work environment.  That plan and its effective implementation are vital to long term sustainability and productivity of a veteran on the job.

    Harry Croft M.D. is a former Army doctor who has evaluated more than 7,000 veterans with PTSD, is medical director of the San Antonio Psychiatric Research Center, and is author of the book I Always Sit With My Back to The Wall.  For more information, visit www.mybacktothewall.com

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