Tech & Work

Veterans in the workplace: What employers and vets need to know

A former Army doctor and psychiatrist offers advice for veterans entering the civilian workforce and for those who are hiring them.

In 2011, some 21.6 million men and women in the civilian noninstitutional population ages 18 and over were veterans. The unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces at any time since September 2001 — a group referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans — was 12.1 percent in 2011, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I think many employers would like to close that gap, but then they read a story like the one about Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghanistan civilians) and erroneously apply a broad brush to other vets. This is especially true since there has been some connection between Bales' actions and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

But Harry Croft M.D. is a former Army doctor and a psychiatrist who has evaluated more than 7,000 veterans for PTSD, and in his book I Always Sit with My Back to the Wall, he says that although about one in five vets returning from war will have PTSD, "never will someone with PTSD behave like Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. He was suffering from much more than just PTSD alone."

Here are some things Croft says employers should keep in mind if they're looking to hire vets:

  • Understand the veteran, his or her skill sets, and the differences in military and civilian culture. Hire veterans in pairs or groups if you can, 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 in to the myths, mystique, and stigma about veterans with PTSD.
  • Offer veterans you hire someone to talk to in confidence or give them 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, or good for business, or because you feel sorry for them. They don't want to be treated like charity, but they do want to be given opportunities because they are the right person for the job.

And for vets seeking employment, he says to keep these things in mind:

  • 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 (the job you're going into). The military recognizes you by your rank, time-in-grade, and job description. The civilian community is different: You can socialize with coworkers, and things are looser and not always by the book.
  • Learn everything you can about PTSD 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 into trouble and be misunderstood.


Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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