Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan find it difficult to return to everyday life for multiple reasons. They must become reacquainted with family and friends, adjust to sleeping at home again, and find their way through a day that is considered “normal” by those who have never been abroad. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 11 percent to 20 percent of these veterans return home with the wound of traumatic experiences and the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
For many of these veterans, their next battle may be in finding an employer that will look past the stigma of PTSD and trust in them to be a dependable employee. Because most employers do not know much about or do not understand PTSD, they hesitate to hire someone they believe may have this traumatic disorder. Some employers stereotype all veterans as having PTSD.
Researchers from the Center for New American Security in Washington, D.C, asked 69 leading companies how they felt about hiring veterans. The employers said that while they thought hiring veterans would reflect well on their companies, most admitted that they were concerned about bringing on those who suffer from the disorder.
A separate survey by the nationwide Society for Human Resource Management revealed that nearly one in three employers believe that veterans may be looked over for a job because of the association with PTSD.
Such misconceptions have led to a shockingly high unemployment rate among veterans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan age 24 and under was 29.1 percent, compared to a national average unemployment rate of 8.2 percent. For older veterans of this war, the unemployment rate was 10.3 percent, compared with 7.5 percent for other veterans.
The government and some private organizations are trying to reduce the stigma of PTSD and get these deserving veterans a job back here at home. First Lady Michelle Obama is making efforts to help military families by asking at least 2,000 American companies to pledge that they will provide training for or hire 125,000 veterans or their spouses.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is also committed to helping veterans with a program called “Hiring Our Heroes.” Through the program’s series of job fairs, nearly 7,000 veterans have found employment.
In interviews with human resource officers, 61 percent of employers said they were uncertain about the safety of hiring someone who has PTSD. They admitted being fearful about the safety of their staff and their customers. In a study by researchers from Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, 73 percent of the human resource officers believed that it would be good for their business to hire veterans with disabilities, but 63 percent said that hiring people with traumatic brain injury or PTSD would be challenging for them.
Researchers say that a big challenge to getting veterans in the workforce is educating middle managers about PTSD. Through minor office accommodations and a staff educated on mental illness, those with PTSD can become a hardworking part of a team once again.