IT Employment

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.

About

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.

8 comments
ultimitloozer
ultimitloozer

Since my discharge in '92, these are the most important things I learned about working in the civilian sector: 1. Teamwork in the military world and civilian world are completely different beasts. Everybody on a civilian team without a military background is out for themselves. Some will intentionally work to cause a project to fail. Those same people will arrange it so the failure will appear to belong to someone else, so keep records of EVERYTHING. Former military make easy targets, at least initially. 2. Even an excellent technical background from military service does not guarantee an equal shot at employment once outside. I lost several opportunities to far less experienced and knowledgable people because of some distorted perception of the military and military service. In fact, one job I failed to get as a technician was given to an individual who had ZERO experience with electronics and a Liberal Arts degree. I found this out directly from the person who was hired once he realized he was in way over his head. 3. From my own experience and talking with other vets in the area, it seems most employers believe that a compensation package 30-40% less than the going rate for the job position in that area is an acceptable ceiling for former military members.

RealInIT
RealInIT

Thank you Toni, the hints for veterans entering back into the workforce are very valuable. I wish that these would have been available back when I got out. Better late than never. Thanks for the article!

jonrosen
jonrosen

Articles written on here in the last few weeks. My S.O. is a vet with many problems thanks to the military, including PTSD. While she currently cannot work in an office job, a LOT of managers and others who can work with vets need to understand a few things. And I'm not talking some of the moronic 'politically correct' BS...

tavent
tavent

I never had a military career myself, but have been nearby the military culture most of my life. My dad was Seabee's Reserve since I was in my mid teens, and in my career I have worked on at least twenty military bases in all branches except the Marine corps. There is definitely a culture difference for non-comms between the military and civilian world, that goes beyond just the command structure. I have noticed some civilians who were military which showed signs of not having adjusted entirely to that difference, and other vets whom you would not identify except that the topic eventually came up. The above comment about supervisor-employee socializing patterns is thus indicative, and might stand as an example of a relatively minor case of implied value inconsistency. In the civilian work environment, you do not typically place your life in the trust of your team members. In the military, often the opposite is the case, and it seems to create bonds that last a lifetime. Some civilian work relationships do approach that level but they are the exception rather than the norm. And those vets who are scarred by their duty experiences are legion (use intended); the lack of help they appear to have gotten, in the hard battle to re-assimilate to civilian society, is a black mark upon this nation. Those vets made a sacred commitment to their country and every voter, as well as every elected official who advocates "cutting taxes" while those vets' needs go unaddressed, are accountable.

alienpirate
alienpirate

as a non- vet I sufferer of prolonged duress stress disorder PDSD - it is time that people recognised both conditions - PDSD is caused by never knowing what is going to happen next in high stress situations - it's existence is denied in the UK because of the Northern Ireland situation and the number of military who were patroling streets not knowning if they were going to be blown up! Its effects are just as dibilitating as PTSD and in many case can be worse as it is not only triggered by individual events but by ongoing events. So trigger events can't be avoided. My sympathy for all other suffers time does heal just it takes many years....

Silent_Fist
Silent_Fist

I'm a retired Gulf War vet. In the military, you can sit in the club, get drunk with the boss, and honestly tell him or her what's on your mind and most of the time there are zero repercussions from it, and often an attempt will be made to fix the problem. It's because we're all in this together. In the civilian world, that's usually a good way to get fired, have an HR session, get passed over for promotion. Things get worse and no attempt will be made to fix the problem. It's because it's every man or woman for themselves first.

toni.bowers_b
toni.bowers_b

I'd like to pursue other topics of interest to veterans if anyone has any suggestions.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

because it must. It's not only the "all in it together" aspect, but the individual making the complaints may very well have good ideas for fixing the problem. Plus, if job performance meets standards, there is no real way to legally quiet the individual; unless they are insubordinate, you can't kick 'em out for having an attitude or complaining. In the civilian world, the presumption seems to be that you are trying to make trouble, so the squeaky wheel gets replaced.

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