November 16, 2012

Veterans in The Workforce – A New Kind of Battle

US soldierThe challenges for veterans returning to civilian life are many. Not only are they faced with the mental and emotional struggles of a culture change, but, for many, this is coupled with psychological struggles as well. These struggles are especially marked in those suffering Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

One of the most impacted areas is post military employment – veterans face a higher unemployment rate than their civilian colleagues.  Even with the military’s provided Transition Assistance Program (TAP) in play, when veterans return to civilian culture, they are wholly responsible for their own preservation and behavior and must learn to re-socialize themselves for living and working in mainstream society.

The good news for both veterans and employers is that once a veteran successfully integrates back to civilian culture, gets comfortable in the workplace setting and learns to work through issues of PTSD if they’re present, he or she will become an asset to any organization – falling back on the very strong leadership skills learned in the military.

Here are some suggestions for both veterans and employers to make the transition into the civilian workforce a bit easier:

For Veterans

  • Recognize what your skill sets are.  Your military training proves you’re able to learn, work in groups, accomplish a mission, be a strong leader and be dedicated to what you do.
  • Understand the differences between the military community (your former job) and the civilian community (job you’re going into).  The military recognizes you by your rank, time-in-grade and job description.  The civilian community is different: people dress alike, socialize with co-workers, and things are looser and not always by the book.
  • If you suffer from PTSD, learn everything you can about it and better understand why you do what you do.  It’s important to know what your symptoms are, what triggers them and how to cope.  Without the knowledge, you’re likely to get in trouble and be misunderstood.
  • You’ve received the best leadership training in the world, but understanding and being able to explain how that translates to the civilian workforce is the key in your resume or during an interview.
  • Get yourself a support system.  It can be on the web, a mentor, coach, or group of local veterans who are also returning to the workforce.

For Employers

  • Understand the veteran, his or her skill sets and the differences in military and civilian culture.  If possible, hire veterans in pairs or groups because they’re used to working that way.
  • Learn about PTSD so if you hire a veteran dealing with it, you know what the symptoms really are.  This will help you understand that the vet is not trying to be disrespectful or obstinate and will help you understand the reasons they sometimes behave the way they do.
  • Don’t give into the myths, mystique and stigma about veterans with PTSD.  Never will someone with PTSD behave like Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghanistan civilians.  He was suffering from much more than just PTSD alone.
  • Offer veterans you hire someone to talk to in confidence or a situation or way that might enable them to deal with their symptoms more effectively.
  • Ask yourself why you want to hire a veteran?  It shouldn’t be because it’s a tax break, the patriotic thing to do, good for business or because you feel sorry for them.  They don’t want to be treated like charity, but given opportunities because they are the right person for the job.

By all accounts, veterans possess the capacity and should be able to effectively retrain themselves to operate in an environment other than that which they were accustomed to being successful. But for many, both veterans and employers, this outcome remains elusive. This is precisely why simply hiring veterans is not enough. In the interest of being a viable part of the solution to veterans’ unemployment, companies need to strongly consider developing a plan that gradually assimilates veterans into the civilian work environment.  That plan and its effective implementation are vital to long-term sustainability and productivity of a veteran on the job.

Read more in Military Jobs

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".