Nathan Huret • May 23, 2020
Finding Civilian Employment While Coping with Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Do you know a military veteran that lost his or her job, because they failed to disclose a diagnosis of PTSD to their employer? It happens more often than you think it does. Have you ever worked with a veteran who was triggered into post-traumatic stress disorder episodes?
About 11% to 20% of American military veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A dramatic circumstance, witness to violence and death, or near-death experiences in military combat can cause PTSD. Survivors can also experience guilt if they were one of few that survived a combat event, where some of their friends and fellow soldiers died.
When you witness or survive something traumatizing, your body and mind can go into immediate shock. But few people understand that the state of shock is similar to shutting down almost all the senses and bodily functions, while the mind tries to understand and process an upsetting or even terrifying experience. And PTSD can trigger days or weeks after the event, and in some cases years (if the traumatic memory has been suppressed and retriggered).
Talk to a veteran with PTSD and he or she will tell you that it definitely does not help a job search. There are so few accuracies and so many assumptions about veterans with PTSD. And the stigma makes it more difficult for a veteran who is forthcoming about their special needs to advance to the interview stage. Again, some employers are not concerned about the disclosure of PTSD, while others think it is a deal-breaker, and will not interview the veteran for the role.
Veterans with PTSD on their resume are often knocked out of contending, without ever having a direct conversation with the prospective employer. Yet withholding this information denies the veteran an opportunity to have modest workplace accommodations to improve productivity and reduce triggers and reactions. And that is not the answer either.
What Are the Common Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
It is time that the public really understood the diagnoses of PTSD. Because for many people, the mention of PTSD automatically conjures up a military man or woman who has psychological trauma. That is correct. But the next assumption is that the serviceman or servicewoman is a threat to society; a ticking time bomb that could go off at any time.
We can blame Hollywood for that stigma. Can you remember the number of movies you have seen that paint a military veteran diagnosed with PTSD as a threat? Or mentally unstable? Some of the movies that portrayed that bias included:
- Forrest Gump
- Shutter Island
- Rambo (classic example)
- You Were Never Really Here
- The Deer Hunter
- American Sniper
- Jason Bourne
- Gran Torino
- Jacobs Ladder
In each one of those movies, a central character is a veteran who acts abnormally. Sometimes violently. The portrayal of the most clinically severe and extreme cases of post-traumatic stress disorder has, thanks to pop culture, become normative. Every veteran with PTSD has the potential to behave that way.
But we do not place the same punitive caution label on individuals who have anxiety or depression, do we? Many of the clinical conditions and symptoms are almost identical, between the three mental health conditions (anxiety, depression, and PTSD). But when a friend tells us they are taking medication to manage their anxiety, do we suddenly want to avoid spending time with them? Or hiring them for a job?
What Are the Symptoms of PTSD Like for an American Veteran?
Some of the most common symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) include:
- Nightmares and sleep terrors (insomnia)
- Chronic moderate to severe headaches
- Social isolation (friends and family)
- Clinical Anxiety and/or depression
- Flashbacks to the traumatic event (sometimes followed by an involuntary anxiety attack)
The stigma is so great for veterans returning with a diagnosis of PTSD, that some employers may not even give them a chance. Veterans are forced with the choice of divulging their medical diagnosis of PTSD or attempting to hide their condition, rather than ask for employment supports and special accommodations to help reduce traumatic triggers.
What is easier for a veteran suffering from PTSD? To surround themselves with friends, family, and coworkers when they do not know when or where the severe anxiety symptoms will manifest? No one wants to be the center of that kind of attention in a crowd, which leads to a reflex of self-isolation to avoid an audience, if or when they experience a traumatic flash-back episode or symptom.
What Can Employers Do to Provide General Accommodations for Veterans with PTSD?
It is important for us to recognize veterans with PTSD with the same compassion and accommodations that are provided for other workers with cognitive or physical disabilities. Being a veteran-friendly employer means making some adaptations for new employees who have so much to offer, and who ask so little from their employers, with the exception of understanding for the challenges they face.
Employers can provide free training to their staff, before hiring a veteran with PTSD. There are some low-cost courses and webinars that can be used to understand trauma as a disability that can be accommodated in virtually any workplace. Some accommodations may be as simple as a quiet seating area or desk away from high-traffic areas of the office, to reduce stress. Other accommodations can include a flexible schedule, where the veteran may take off additional health days if symptoms become unmanageable.
It is illegal to bias hiring practices based on religion, gender, ethnicity, and special needs. With an employer who is compassionate to veterans who suffer combat traumas, the return on investment is a high skill (and very loyal) employee. One that is unlikely to ‘job jump’ when they have found an employer who can provide the workplace accommodations to help them succeed.
If you would like to be one of our Talent Connect Partners, and augment your team with a veteran hire, visit our website and explore our recruitment tools for North Carolina and National employers. Support our veterans and access the competitive skills you need by creating a career opportunity for a veteran.
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