Everybody loves the postive energy of a parade. Banners flying, music playing, people smiling. We all feel good. That's what happened when major corporations agreed to hire more veterans as a result of a national initiative to reduce veteran unemployment. It seemed like such a simple solution to help returning vets transition back to civilian life, didn't it? Offer them work, a path toward reintegration into society, a chance to reclaim the lives they left and presto, everybody's happy.
So why is unemployment among vets from Iraq and Afghanistan still higher than in other sectors of the population? And why is the unemployment rate active duty vets face almost double what reservists experience?
Well, the gloss of the parade can hide some misconceptions. The press, not to mention the entertainment industry, has done its job educating the public about the effects of PTSD. Who isn't familiar with someone breaking under stress and "going postal?"
Corporations issue public mission statements and set their agendas, but in reality the decision of whether or not to hire usually lands on middle management. These are the folks whose job it will be to integrate the newly-hired vet into a working environment. Suppose you had a pretty stable, ticking-along-nicely group of people, would you be eager to introduce what media stereotypes tell you might be a wild card? Maybe not.
According to Gregg Zoroya, who wrote in USA Todayth, while PTSD occurs in only 5 percent to 20 percent of the veteran population, one in three managers stated PTSD as a reason not to hire. Too risky. So now, in addition to the very real difficulties of transitioning back into civilian life in a recovering economy, vets are facing a subtle kind of discrimination. I mean, one in three??? That's a significant percentage.
Where do the misconceptions on PTSD come from? From media coverage and the entertainment industry. Does this sound like a loop to anybody else? We make the mistake of thinking that the dramatized, perhaps even exaggerated, account is the norm. I remember when I first returned from Vietnam. When the movie Deerhunter came out, people were asking me if I'd ever played Russian roulette. That's the kind of thing I mean.
Let's go back to the 5 percent to 20 percent of vets suffering from PTSD. Zoroya reports that Nancy Adams, an Army transition manager, has said that they are no better or worse than people suffering from non-combat PTSD, like auto accidents or sexual trauma. I'm sure you can list other causes.
Looks to me like we need to take a little more time thinking through this. Fixing on the image of PTSD as a single-cause, single-outcome phenomena is a short-cut we can't afford to take. Especially if it closes off an opportunity for a vet.
Know a middle manager? An upper-level one? Put this list of reasons to hire a vet in front of them. It's from "The Business Case for Hiring a Veteran: Beyond the Clichés."
- Veterans are entrepreneurial.
- Veterans assume high levels of trust
- Veterans are adept at transferring skills across contexts/tasks
- Veterans have advanced technical training
- Veterans can adapt to discontinuous environments
- Veterans exhibit high levels of resilience
- Veterans exhibit advanced team-building skills
- Veterans exhibit strong organizational commitment
- Veterans leverage cross-cultural experiences
- Veterans have experience in diverse work-settings
Have a position you'd like to offer a vet? Call us. We'll post it on our website. www.nvf.org.