May 27, 2013

Hiring Veterans: A Business Strategy that Delivers Results

Veteran with head down by flagHiring veterans goes beyond patriotism.  It’s a solid business strategy built on leveraging proven results by some of the brightest talent possessing the top skills today’s employers crave – critical thinking, problem solving professionalism, work ethic, leadership, oral communications, teamwork (SHRM Survey 2013).

Nearly 70 percent of SHRM’S 2012 poll respondents said their organization is likely or very likely to actively recruit unemployed veterans because of the tax credits being offered.  Yet in spite of these compelling performance and financial factors, unemployment rates for this talent pool remain high. One of the perceived challenges to hiring veterans cited by 46 percent of (SHRM 2011)surveyed employers is PTSD. Steeped in misconceptions and stigma, causing inappropriate expectations and interfering with successful retention and promotion of veteran talent, it’s a “pink elephant” topic that requires a fresh and accurate perception. Let’s start with separating facts from misperceptions:

  • PTSD is, at its core, a biological condition;
  • Seven percent of non-veteran employees are affected by some type of PTSD as a result of severe trauma ranging from auto accidents, tragic death of a loved one, fire, flood, rape, assault, etc. (*NCS-R Survey Replication Study June 2005). Think of those affected by the 2012 east coast Storm Sandy and the most recent tornado in Oklahoma, or shootings in Newtown, CT;
  • Only 20 percent of combat zone Veterans have PTSD;
  • Symptoms vary from person to person, and in many cases can be very mild, improve over time and be very responsive to appropriate treatment;
  • Accommodations may be simple, i.e. basic awareness to workspace location and sudden loud sounds;
  • Workplace violence from PTSD is rare.

So how do HR professionals and managers effectively manage PTSD and other “invisible wounds” of combat? Below are the three key strategies to successfully integrate veteran talent or anyone with PTSD in your organization:

1. Educate – Include your leadership team and staff.  Use Affinity Groups when possible and invite local veteran assistance organizations to speak at lunch-and-learn sessions as part of your Diversity Inclusion ongoing training and awareness programs.  Utilize free tools from the Americas Heroes at Work website or the Army’s Warrior Transition Command newly released DVD  “Hire a Veteran, Obstacles Solutions.”  Remember, anyone can have PTSD.

2. Accommodate – Studies consistently verified that most ADA workplace accommodations are less than $500 and many cost nothing at all.  For example, talk with the veteran about the best placement for their workspace (i.e. not in the middle of a room or in a chair with their back to a door – allocate a corner space and use mirrors in cubicles to signal that others are in their area).  Consider lighting, wall calendars, and written instructions. Not sure about how to prepare or develop a solution? Call Cornell University’s DBTAC NE Center at 800-949-3232 or the Job Accommodation Network  at 800-526-7234.

3. Communicate – Create a win/win situation by talking about PTSD in a realistic way, just as you would for any diversity or inclusion situation. Correct misperceptions as they occur, reduce the stigma by demonstrating inclusion efforts from the top down so other employees are clear about expected behaviors. Use available accommodation tools to successfully integrate without drawing attention to the veteran similar to how you would treat a worker with a wheelchair space accommodation. On this Memorial Day and every day, we want to remember and give thanks to all who served.  Join us by providing the opportunities to those who returned to begin their civilian career with a sense of pride, belonging and optimism for the future they deserve.  Be a part of making the difference in their lives!

Sherrill A Curtis SPHR photoThis article was co-authored by Sherrill A. Curtis, SPHR researcher and author of “Behind the Lines – 10 Steps to Becoming a Military-Ready Employer” ( In addition to her advocacy and programs for integrating military talent into the workplace, her human resource consultancy practice offers business strategy, guest speaking and skill development workshops.

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Harry Croft, M.D is a former Army doctor and a renowned psychiatrist who has evaluated more than 7,000 veterans diagnosed with PTSD. He is co-author of the book "I Always Sit with My Back to The Wall".