Quickly welcoming veterans back into the workforce may not just help them financially, but benefit their well-being as well, says psychiatrist Dr. Harry Croft.
Croft, who has treated veterans for nearly 40 years, says that for some, free time is the worst enemy.
“I’ve seen over 3,000 Vietnam vets,” he explains. “Time alone doesn’t fix post-traumatic stress disorder.”
He adds that, unfortunately, Vietnam veterans who have been working all of this time are now reaching retirement or being phased out.
“And they’re finding that free time is just a nightmare for them,” Croft says.
He admits that others may need decompression time, but only if that time is spent in a positive way.
Ahmad Richardson, a combat veteran who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq while in the Marine Corps, agrees with the idea that returning to work immediately after deployment may not always be healthy.
“When you are on the defensive for so long, an average of six to nine months, you bring a lot of those habits back with you,” Richardson says. “You need time to readjust to a ‘normal’ way of life.”
Richardson now works as a track foreman at Amtrak, and says the biggest difference was the tempo.
“The military was high tempo, on the move, let’s make it happen,” he explains. “My new job is busier, but nowhere near the tempo in the military. To go to half-speed was a real culture shock.”
Croft has witnessed his patients making similar adjustments to differences between military and civilian life. He shares coping skills in his book, I Always Sit With My Back To The Wall.
“In the military, it is critically important to follow the rules, especially in a combat zone,” he says. “You don’t do things right, the helicopter falls out of the sky, those around you get killed.”
But in many civilian jobs, Croft says, while there is a rulebook, the response to it is, “Who cares?”
“Some of the structure and discipline that we veterans are used to in the military are not as present in the civilian sector,” says Richardson, who served 11 years before retiring as a sergeant. “We have to accept that some of our civilian counterparts may not be as ‘motivated.’”
Unemployment rates among military veterans who served since 2001 worsened slightly last year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 12.1 percent of this group of veterans — considered Gulf War-era II veterans — were unemployed in 2011. This increase comes at a time when the unemployment rate for non-veterans decreased over the same time period.
Croft thinks employers are hesitant about hiring veterans for several reasons.
Reservists, or those in the National Guard who were deployed, may find difficulties being hired or rehired. Typically, they signed up for limited service time, usually on select weekends. Yet, many guardsmen and reservists found themselves deployed, sometimes more than once.
“Businesses don’t want to hire you anymore because you keep getting redeployed,” Croft says. He adds that, technically, they cannot be fired from their previous jobs, but are sometimes pushed out in other ways. In addition, they do not have the same benefits and job security as their full-time military colleagues.
Croft finds that the fear of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, also causes employers to pause before hiring veterans.
“Are they going to come in and blow the place up?” Croft says as an example of an employer’s worry. He adds that the reported ambush by Army Sergeant Robert Bales in Afghanistan — which involved shooting and stabbing several men, women and children — makes employers even more cautious about veterans, especially those with PTSD.
“Unless we educate employers about PTSD, it could backfire,” he says. ”[Those killings] are not simply PTSD. Something else went on with Sergeant Bales. I don’t want an employer to get the idea not to hire a veteran because they’re going to behave like him.”
Croft says that PTSD does pose some unique problems, but they can be managed by an informed employer, and a mutually-beneficial working environment can ultimately be created.
With a recent push toward hiring veterans — such as Disney’s Heroes Work Here, which aims to hire at least 1,000 veterans over the next 3 years — the unemployment rate has already dropped to 7.6 this February.
“The cool thing is to hire veterans now. It’s patriotic, it’s cool. But, why do you want to hire vets?” Croft asks, “If you want to hire veterans because they have a skill set that will really help your business, that’s better.”
Hiring veterans into work cultures similar to the military is one consideration, says Croft. He also suggests hiring veterans in groups so the newly hired veterans have someone they know, who came from a similar work environment.
Mentoring by veterans who are already in the workplace can help brand new veterans know what they are going to face, he says.
“We’re going to have a ton of vets coming home as this thing winds down,” he says, and reminds us that there is still much work to be done to prepare them, and to understand the effects of these repeated deployments.
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