Hiring Veterans: PTSD Should Not Be a Roadblock

By Liz McLean
21 May 2015

The thought of hiring a candidate with PTSD in their past should not scare an employer away.

As I approach organizations for staffing needs, I hear chronic concerns over hiring candidates with the mysterious “PTSD” to which I quickly put their minds at ease.

If you are nervous about hiring those with PTSD, then you should be nervous about candidates with depression, anxiety issues, ADHD, bi-polar disorder and more; so congratulations, you have just eliminated one in five Americans. Employers must remember to not give into the myths or stigma about veterans with PTSD.

The common stereotypes associated with PTSD make returning veterans fearful of being associated with weakness or lack of employment. The likelihood of someone behaving like the Fort Hood case, where 12 were killed and 31 injured, is slim to none. The shooter was suffering from much more than just PTSD.

By halting your veteran hiring initiatives out of fear of this disorder, you are directly amplifying the reintegration issues we see in the US. Show your support as a company instead of being a roadblock before they are hired.

(This post was originally published here. Reposted at blog.relode.com with permission.)

As a company, before you make a decision to be fearful of hiring veterans because of PTSD, ask yourself why you want to hire veterans. It should not be because of a tax break or because hiring them will increase your business or simply because you feel sorry for them.

I can assure you that they do not want to be treated like charity.

They want to be given opportunities because they are the right people for the job, and it is not your position to ask them about the PTSD experiences simply because they served. Being cautious of “strange” personality traits in the hiring process is legitimate, but over-analyzing a candidate simply by military-related assumption is another.

Remember that PTSD can affect those who experience a life-changing event, but it can also affect those who witness it and those who deal with the ramifications later. It can even occur in the friends or family members of those who went through the actual trauma, thus increasing the chances of hiring someone with PTSD even greater than you might suspect. There are extreme and varying degrees of those with this disorder, and they cannot be placed into a “check box” on an employment survey.

PTSD can be caused by natural disasters, rape, kidnapping, assault, sexual abuse, physical abuse, childhood neglect, car crash, plane crash, terrorist attack, sudden death of a loved one and, of course, war. Thus your ability to truly discern this disorder in the hiring process without a psychological evaluation is unlikely. While the percentage of PTSD in those returning from war is greater than in the general population, it is by no means the only population. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), one in four adults − approximately 61.5 million Americans − experiences mental illness in a given year (nearly 44 million).

Instead of creating barriers by stereotyping, how can you help?

1.  If you are a company that hires veterans, having a strong list of resources to which you can refer your employees for help should they need it, would create a feeling of support. This is no different than offering medical services to your “typical” employee. Just as a supervisor should be alert of strange behaviors of any employee, supervisors should pay attention to off-color behaviors from a veteran. If a vet employee does come to your with concerns, show your support by directing them to a professional.

2.  If you are in a position to be hiring individuals to work in a department with physical labor and loud noises or sensations can be noticed and you know you are hiring combat vets, ensuring those assisting with hiring veterans the proper questions is acceptable.

3.  If you are using a direct service for veterans, address your concerns with them. If you are using someone like me to staff your company, you can feel free to bring up those concerns and not make judgment calls on your own.

4.  If your organization is large enough to support “wellness” overall, then it should support physical well-being through exercise, diet and overall stress-management programs. Adapting this to encompass more facets of stress management should not be a stretch.

5.  Stay clear of generalizations about what a member may have experienced; adding more labels to your candidates will not show your support, but alienate.

6.  If you feel the need, have your company sponsor or donate to organizations that specifically help with PTSD treatment and reintegration.

7.  Educate yourself on what PTSD really is and take the time to educate your staff for how to support those who are already hired.

Bottomline is: Yes, PTSD is very real...

But as a company leader or hiring manager, you personally do not need to be overly concerned about a PTSD diagnosis in the selection process for candidates.

The more emphasis you place on discriminating this, the more it will cause candidates to hide their symptoms when they return from overseas out of fear of labeling and unemployment. Looking at my LinkedIn profile would you be fearful of hiring me into your organization by the sheer fact of my status as a veteran? You might assume I have fewer “issues” than the young Army Infantryman profile picture that perhaps never actually deployed. Don’t stereotype and don’t overthink what you don’t know - you are only creating more barriers. Instead, join the solution.



Liz McLean is a Veteran Programs Consultant, Public Speaker and Transition Coach at Convoy in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find her on LinkedIn here and follow her on twitter @LMcLean_Vethire