Dr. Harry Croft said he’s asked veterans where they sit when they go to a restaurant and it’s pretty empty. Their answers are always the same: I always sit with my back to the wall so that I can see what’s coming in.
Croft said their responses reflect hyper-vigilance—always looking for danger—one of the symptoms of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As a psychiatrist dedicated to diagnosing, treating and educating about PTSD, Croft appropriately titled his book after the symptom, I Always Sit with My Back to The Wall.
He was in charge of the army drug and alcohol program during Vietnam in 1973. It was during his time in the war that he developed an interest in PTSD, which didn’t receive its name until 1980. After more than a decade of evaluating veterans, Croft focuses his efforts on employment issues with veterans and teaching civilian doctors about PTSD and common war-related illnesses. Check out what he had to say about veterans, PTSD and misconceptions in the workplace:
1. In your experience, do you think veterans (or those specifically with PTSD) are discriminated against for recruitment?
A big employer is forbidden by law to ask about disabilities, unless they’re going to try to accommodate them. So because they cannot ask, many employers just assume anybody who’s been in the Middle East has PTSD. They also assume, erroneously, that people with PTSD are a danger to the workplace, a danger to fellow employees and to management because of headlines of some soldiers who have done horrible things. Some employers are very concerned about PTSD, but will it keep them from hiring a veteran? I don’t know the answer to that, but it could.
2. What are the most common preconceived notions and myths recruiters have about hiring veterans?
I think there are a lot of reasons why there are problems hiring veterans, those with and without PTSD.
- One of the big ones is that PTSD is like pregnancy: it’s all or it’s none, it is or it isn’t. What most people don’t know is that PTSD symptoms range all the way from very mild and almost non-observable to very severe. And many people with PTSD do not have very severe symptoms; so that’s a misconception.
- That PTSD causes people to cause trouble in the workplace, especially with violence.
- Everybody who’s been to the Middle East or who’s been in combat has PTSD. And what the statistics show is 20 percent—about 1 in 5—coming back suffering from PTSD, which means 4 out of 5 don’t have it. So, not everybody has it.
- And the final misconception is that it’s just kind of hopeless. Once you get it, you got it and there’s just very little that can be done for you. And none of those are true.
3. How can recruiters dispel myths about hiring veterans?
I’m hoping that the kind of work we’re doing(and there are probably many others just like me) by teaching about PTSD, by going on the media and talking about it, and by lecturing to people you can educate them about what PTSD is and what it isn’t. I think that’s important because the people who make the news with PTSD are the very rare exceptions who do violent things. Anger and irritability can be one of the symptoms of PTSD, but usually that’s directed towards family members and those closest to the veteran, as opposed to those in the workplace. And often that is complicated by the use of drugs or alcohol. Those are not the result of simply PTSD.
Drug and alcohol use is a co-concurring condition. Many with PTSD do not understand their symptoms, so they may turn to drugs to treat their own symptoms, which can result in them getting into problems with alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drug abuse is not one of the symptoms of PTSD.
4. Is there anything the army/military or veterans’ affairs groups can do to dispel myths or educate recruiters about hiring veterans?
They are doing that. The Veterans’ Affairs (VA) has a department of PTSD. The website has information for patients and families, physicians, and for other people like recruiters. The Department of Labor and the Department of VA Affairs have joined together and there’s a lot of information on the website about vet employment There are also several vet organizations-one is called VetJobs-that help veterans get jobs, but they also have information for employers.
The important thing is the employers need to get good information, correct information. If they don’t have correct information or any information, that void is filled in by some of those myths and misconceptions and that’s where some of the problems lie.
5. How can employers take measures to accommodate veterans?
There are things from the HR side that could more effectively enable them to hire more vets and retain them. A recruiter might find themselves turning down a potentially great employee because they don’t understand the military culture.
Veterans are used to working in groups and they understand one another. Hiring more than one veteran at the same time or ensuring there are more than one veteran in the organization may be helpful, because it allows the veterans to have someone to talk to. If they’re having a hard time they’ll have someone to go to. Also, allowing people time off and using the employee assistance programs helps.
6. What actions can veterans themselves take?
There are things from the veterans’ side that could be done more effectively to help them get a job. There are some potential problems and that starts before the application process. If a person started as teen, all he or she knows is the military style. Going into the civilian community makes it hard to adjust.
Veterans can find organizations in their community or they can find organizations online where they can go to talk to one another. Sometimes just talking to somebody else who understands can be of great value. If PTSD is the problem, it behooves them to get appropriate treatment and support to no longer become an issue in the workplace. PTSD does not have to be hopeless; there is hope with PTSD.
7. Is there anything else you would like to add?
By and large I believe veterans can make excellent employees if they know how to get hired, if the recruiter will give them a shot, and if the manager and fellow employees will understand the cultural differences that are there. I really believe that we owe it to the vets to award them for our service to the country. Even if they have PTSD, we can deal with it appropriately and they can make great contributions to the workplace if it’s done right.
Dr. Croft further explained that there are three clusters of symptoms of PTSD, all of which can affect a veteran with the condition in the workplace:
Re-experiencing: nightmares, flashbacks, or having triggers that bring back thoughts of the combat zone. For example, loud noises, smells, and sights. Understanding triggers can be valuable.
Avoidance: don’t want to think about it. People with severe PTSD may have socialization issues. One of the symptoms of avoidance is what’s called a constriction of mood, or no full range of moods, just parts of moods. Another symptom of avoidance is detachment, or the feeling that they’re not all there; their minds are elsewhere.
Arousal: not sleeping well at night, easily started, jumpy, hypervigilance, anger, irritability, and agitation. Sometimes a vet with PTSD may overact and get upset when people do simple things wrong.