PTSD, Veterans and the Workplace

Health Writer

The unemployment rate for coming down. For many, that is good news. But for the veterans who can't find a job, the national unemployment rate doesn't hold much meaning. According to an article in Time Magazine, "The Ground Truth on Veterans' Unemployment," there are a number of reasons that there is a higher unemployment rate for veterans than for other segments of our society:

  • Business leaders today, for the most part, are not veterans and therefore don't understand the value of hiring veterans. Many of these business leaders, according to a 2012 report, don't see how military skills are going to increase their bottom line.

  • Veterans trained in specific areas in the military must undergo retraining, testing and licensing/certification to complete the same job they were previously trained for while in the military.

  • Not all veterans receive transitional support or assistance. A new law has made the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) mandatory for all units, but that hasn't always been the case. The Time Magazine article indicates that only 66 percent of veterans received employment resources. More laws are needed to make sure all service members have access to TAP and specialized training programs.

The Stigma of PTSD

While these factors are all part of the reason for high unemployment rates among veterans, there may be another reason as well: the stigma of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In recent years, understanding about PTSD and how it has affected returning veterans has increased immensely and while that is good, there is a downside to all the media attention about PTSD. Michael Blecker, a Vietnam War veteran, explains, "With all the attention, it's bad if employers feel like somebody is a time bomb waiting to go off. Why would they bring veterans into the workplace if they believe that." [1]

Two different surveys show that wrong ideas about PTSD in veterans may be preventing companies from hiring them. A Society for Human Resource Management found approximately one-third of HR professionals thought PTSD was a "challenge" to hiring veterans. Another survey, completed by the Center for a New American Security found that more than half of the CEOs of leading companies were concerned on how combat stress would impact the workplace. [2]

The stigma surrounding PTSD, and other mental illness, isn't new. When people don't understand, or don't have much experience with something, they often fear it or have negative viewpoints about it. Many people may mistakenly believe that PTSD is something you can just get over if you try harder. Or, they may not realize that it is a treatable condition. Some may believe that everyone with PTSD is dangerous, or has the potential to suddenly snap and become a danger to other employees.

Looking for Work

One of the best ways to help yourself is to make sure you are receiving and following any treatment programs for PTSD. Treatment isn't going to make the symptoms go away overnight, but it will help you learn to manage some of your symptoms.

In addition to treatment, it is important to take advantage of veteran and community resources. These can include:

  • Job skills training including resume preparation and interview skills
  • Retraining programs to help you get any certifications you may need to work in the same field you were trained for in the military
  • Volunteer work, which will help you create contacts and give you work experience

Take advantage of any employer incentive programs offered through the military or veterans associations.


You are not required to disclose your PTSD to your employer, however, if you are requesting accommodations, you must tell your employer why you want the accommodations and how you feel these will help you better perform your job. Accommodations are not meant to make an unqualified worker qualified, but to give you the opportunity to perform your job despite the limitations caused by your PTSD.

Because PTSD doesn't look the same in each individual, accommodations will be based on your needs. You may not have all the symptoms of PTSD or may not have severe symptoms. Some of the main symptoms of PTSD and a few examples of accommodations are (from


  • Written instructions
  • Electronic devices for task lists/reminders/calendars/deadlines
  • Verbal prompts and reminders
  • Tape recorders for meetings
  • Additional training time

Lack of Concentration

  • Private work areas to reduce distractions
  • Use of white noise or soothing music
  • Help in dividing projects into smaller tasks

Time Management

  • Create daily to-do lists
  • Have regular meetings with supervisors to review goals and progress
  • Use email to send reminders of deadlines and due dates

Stress Management

  • Allow frequent work breaks
  • Restructure job responsibilities and duties
  • Allow time off for counseling and therapy appointments
  • Develop procedures for problem solving
  • Allow the use of a support animal
  • Provide a private area for yoga, meditation or "down-time"
  • Identify triggers for anxiety attacks or high-stress and eliminate environmental triggers such as noise or strong smells

Interacting with Supervisors and Co-workers

  • Provide daily or weekly feedback
  • Provide positive reinforcement
  • Provide clear expectations
  • Allow for tele-commuting
  • Develop conflict resolution strategies
  • Provide disability sensitivity training to all employees


"The Ground Truth on Veterans' Unemployment," 2013, March, Tom Taratino, Time Magazine

[1] [2] "Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Stigma Hurts Veterans in Job Search," 2013, June 23, Mark Emmons, Silicon Valley MercuryNews.Com

"PTSD, Work and Your Community," Updated 2007, Staff Writer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs