As I walked the parking lot and aisles of Costco as an employee, I kept something from many of my coworkers. Something that prevented glances of worried suspicion and morbid curiosity that have met me many times over the last three years. I knew from the past that revealing my military and combat experience could define who I was before I had a chance to do it myself. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and mental instability are shortcuts civilians use to judge war Veterans, and I didn’t want to give them a chance.
It was a pleasant surprise to learn about a robust effort to combat this issue during a panel at the National Veterans Small Business Conference today. Veteran business owners have descended on New Orleans to attend classes and workshops designed to help Veteran-owned businesses win federal contracts, as well as provide a space for Vets to learn more about small business operations and networking and marketing. One important lesson of the conference is how to integrate Veterans in the workplace, where barriers to employment make it difficult for Vets to find (and hold) jobs.
Lisa Stern of the Department of Labor’s project America’s Heroes at Work gave a presentation that aimed to demystify the stereotypes that surround PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), especially in the workplace.
This effort comes as Veterans find themselves unemployed at a higher rate than non-Veterans. Despite an accelerated learning curve, dedication to a team, and an ability to thrive under pressure, Vets are often at a loss on how to bring their military experience to the table as an asset. Many find it difficult to translate their skills into civilian terms or exemplify how they thrived individually in a team-oriented environment. Or just like me, many Vets avoid a self-inflicted stigma wound that could endanger their ability to land a job or associate with peers.
Stern debunked the longstanding myths that PTSD and TBI have a negative impact on workplace safety and productivity. She cited that 46 percent of HR managers surveyed claimed PTSD poses a hiring challenge, despite no evidence that suggests folks with PTSD are prone to violence or dampened efficiency. And for employers who think accommodations for Veterans with PTSD or TBI would be expensive or complex, solutions like flexible work schedules or written instructions instead of just verbal directions can be easy and effective ways to help Vets thrive in the workplace.
The simple act of going to work can even help ease the symptoms of PTSD, says Stern. People who regain employment following onset of a disability report greater life satisfaction and better adjustment than people not employed. The reason is simple: An occupied mind leaves less time to dwell on past experiences, and a steady paycheck can help assuage financial issues that may inflame PTSD symptoms if left unchecked.
We know civilians must overcome their own prejudices that act as barriers in the hiring of Veterans, and we know Vets need to make their skills shine on their résumé. Check out the resources below to make sure both of those things begin to happen in the workplace, so that no more Vets are forced to cover up their stripes.