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(June was PTSD Awareness Month, so it is appropriate to address this as a topic now, and this will be the first in a series on recruiting veterans with disabilities.)

I was recently approached by a film maker who wanted to interview employers that have a strong recruiting program for veterans with disabilities, and she wanted me to introduce her to the program managers for that effort at their respective companies.  When I began with programs such as Northrop Grumman’s “Operation IMPACT” I was quickly cut off with a “no, I don’t want to speak with defense contractors.  I want the other companies.”

I explained that, while there are an increasing number of companies that have a veteran recruiting program, there are fewer of them have a significant focus on recruiting veterans with disabilities.  Conversely, there are companies that have a focus on recruiting people (in general) with disabilities, but their programs don’t generally focus on veterans with disabilities.

That companies don’t typically focus on veterans with disabilities is not because the companies are opposed to the idea; it’s more that they don’t know how to find this population, how to attract it, and how to get hiring managers to understand that there is a wide range of disabilities and that concern regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the workplace should not prevent them from actively seeking out this talent.  There are different tactics that work to find and attract this population, and you have to use the different tactics to increase the number of veterans with disabilities you hire.

What employers think they know about PTSD is how they have seen it portrayed on TV.  The “crazy veteran” is a stereotype.  Post traumatic stress responses, such as avoidance, withdrawal, aggravation or numbness, are perfectly normal responses to experiencing traumatic events.  I’ve spoken with employers who run the gamut of responses from “I’m not hiring any veterans because I don’t want to risk bringing PTSD into the workplace” (treating all veterans as if they have PTSD and assuming PTSD equates to violent outbursts and aggression) to “I want to make sure I don’t provoke their PTSD, so I will put the veterans in a dark room with their backs to the wall and instruct the other employees not to approach them” (treating all veterans as if they have PTSD and are experiencing the exact same stressors).

It is important to remember that PTSD is not just a veteran’s conditionAnyone who has experienced a traumatic event can experience post-traumatic stress symptoms.  And, what you consider to be a traumatic event may not be traumatic to me.  People can experience a range of PTS symptoms, from mild to severe.  Only a doctor can diagnose PTSD, and generally it is a “disorder” once it starts to significantly limit someone’s ability to perform normal daily functions, like getting out of bed, or taking care of your children, or getting yourself to work.  So, you can have symptoms without it being severe enough to be a disorder.

Some symptoms are managed more easily than others, through coping techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises or therapy.  Some symptoms are managed by medication or service animals.  So we cannot treat everyone who has PTS as if there is only one set of symptoms that are addressed in only one way.  What we can do is educate ourselves on PTSD so we can recognize when someone appears to be “off” – not responding to people the way they have in the past, not performing at the capacity they have in the past – and be able to guide them to assistance offered through our company Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or through the VA’s own system.

The National Center for PTSD has an amazing segment of its website called “About Face” which has more than 40 profiles of veterans of every age, gender, and race sharing their stories about living with PTSD.  In short (~2 min) video segments, they each answer questions such as how they knew they had PTSD, how their PTSD affected people around them, and what was the catalyst that made them seek treatment.  I recommend it as professional development for HR professionals, hiring managers and supervisors to view at least a few segments.  These videos take the “scary” and the mystery out of PTSD, and make it something that is very real and that you can see developing in anyone who has experienced a traumatic event, not just something veterans are likely to struggle with.

Here are a few resources for you to educate yourself on PTSD:

America’s Heroes at Work – (free resource) information for employers and community services professionals on helping veterans with PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) succeed in the workplace

Job Accommodation Network – (free resource) database of accommodations that can be made for a wide variety of disabilities, including PTSD and TBI.  You can also speak/chat with a live counselor to get questions answered.

National Center for PTSD – (free resource) information for both veterans and family members dealing with PTSD, as well as employers, healthcare professionals and other providers who want to understand PTSD and assist the veteran.

For those employers seeking to hire veterans with disabilities (which may include PTSD), some free local and national assistance in finding veterans and veterans with disabilities to hire:

If you have any questions on the recruitment or retention of military veterans and veterans with disabilities, I invite you to attend one of our twice monthly free “Ask the Military Recruiting Expert” sessions.  We spend 20 minutes reviewing the basic building blocks of military recruitment and retention programs and 40 minutes answering questions from the audience.  To register for an upcoming session please go to http://www.thevalueofaveteran.com/ask_military_recruiting_expert.html .