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Veterans, Ptsd, and Employment

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Unethical Business Practices and their Influence on Veteran Unemployment Chase Jeffrey Engel Georgetown University

Abstract Military veterans have consistently experienced high unemployment rates. Challenging veterans’ efforts in finding and maintaining employment is the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Exacerbating this problem, is civilian employers’ utilization of deficient hiring and employment practices. In particular, employers have developed a sense of fear and uncertainty about PTSD. These perceptions often prove to be a reason why employers choose not to select veteran candidates for employment. Additionally, organizations fail to successfully acclimate and socialize new veteran employees (who do or may suffer from PTSD) into the organization’s culture. Such failures can lead veteran employees to quit their job. Together, the deficient hiring and employment practices displayed towards former service members have significant ethical implications that serve as the catalyst for high unemployment rates for the veteran population. To minimize these implications and to improve veteran employment opportunities, organizations’ human resources (HR) departments must develop and incorporate new approaches to hiring and employing veterans who do or may suffer from PTSD. Keywords: PTSD, invisible disability, human resources, implicit bias

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Unethical Business Practices and their Influence on Veteran Unemployment Since the onset of World War II, United States military veterans have been plagued by high unemployment rates. Prima facie, many may assume that such high rates seem counterintuitive, considering the wide variety of skills and capabilities military veterans have attained during their time in the service. Indeed, many organizations believe that hiring veterans is good business. These organizations base this notion on the premise that veterans make outstanding candidates in the civilian workforce talent pool because of their various skills and capabilities. In fact, such organizations find that these unique abilities provide businesses with a great competitive advantage. In their study of 69 companies regarding their hiring practices towards former service members, Harrell and Berglass (2012) found that eleven common reasons exist as to why companies hire veterans. These reasons include veterans’ leadership, loyalty, effectiveness, discipline, resiliency, and past proven success (Harrell & Berglass, 2012, p. 15). Additionally, companies perceive veterans as having the right expertise, strong teamwork skills, mental flexibility, trustworthiness, and dependability (Harrell & Berglass, 2012, p. 16). The report, Employing Military Personnel (2010), discussed that veterans have a strong sense of responsibility, the ability to work under pressure, and outstanding problem solving skills (p. 9). Despite the various reasons for hiring veterans, the unemployment rates continue to remain high for former service members in today’s economy. A major reason for this high unemployment rate is attributed to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Studies have recognized many challenges businesses have in their efforts to staff former service members, as well as difficulties many veterans experience in making themselves marketable to employers. One major challenge in particular that veterans face in their work search is the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Every day, veterans struggle with negative perceptions that hiring managers have about PTSD. Additionally, deficiencies in employment practices result in such individuals who may suffer from this disorder experiencing issues retaining healthy, productive work. Using past research, I will discuss how PTSD has fostered continued unemployment rates for military veterans as a result of poor hiring and employment practices, analyze the ethical implications that can manifest because of these practices, and provide recommendations from a human resources (HR) perspective that will minimize these ethical implications and help business organizations improve veteran employment rates. What is PTSD? According to the U.S. Health and Human Services (n.d.), “PTSD is an anxiety disorder that some people get after seeing or living through a dangerous event” (p. 1). Those who may suffer from the disorder are recognized, on a case by case basis, as disabled under the guidelines of The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Its symptoms are characterized by re-experience, avoidance, and hyperarousal (U.S. Health and Human Services, n.d., p. 1). People who suffer from PTSD may endure flashbacks and avoid particular places or settings that remind them of their traumatic experience. Additionally, these individuals may develop personality traits that include “being on edge” and having outbursts of anger (U.S. Health and Human Services, n.d., pp. 1-2). These symptoms have a major impact on everyday life and also serve as a barrier in an individual’s effort to both obtain and maintain gainful employment. Any person, military veteran, civilian, or even a child, is capable of developing PTSD as a result of unexpected stress that is placed on the brain during a traumatic experience. In fact, researchers estimate that nearly 20 percent of American adults have experienced PTSD at some point in their lives (“PTSD Statistics,” 2013, General PTSD Stats section). Moreover, at any given time, nearly 8 percent of Americans suffer from the disorder (“PTSD Statistics,” 2013, General PTSD Stats section). At first glance, one may assume that the previously mentioned statistics seem minimal. However, the effects of PTSD are magnified when analyzing its prevalence with military veterans. Of the veterans who have served in the military in the Post 9-11 era, studies estimate that nearly a third are experiencing PTSD. The report, Veterans’ Employment Challenges (2012), found that of the more than 2,000 veterans surveyed, over 30 percent reported that they were suffering from the disorder (p. 6). Of these individuals, 23 percent indicated they were unemployed (Veterans’ Employment Challenges, 2012, p.6). The aforementioned statistics provide evidence of a major disparity when comparing it to the unemployment rates of the non-disabled veterans and the civilian population alike. Furthermore, the statistics display a direct link between PTSD and the difficulty veterans have in successfully finding employment. To better understand the disparity between veteran and civilian unemployment, it is necessary to analyze how much unemployment has affected the veteran community. Veteran Unemployment
Statistics
Historically, veterans have experienced higher rates of unemployment compared to their civilian counterparts. According to Harrell and Berglass (2012), “The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is typically at least one full percentage point higher than that for nonveterans” (p. 8). The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013), found that the average unemployment rate for veterans during 2012 was 9.9 percent (p. 1). This total was nearly two percentage points higher than the average for non-veterans. The distinction becomes even more apparent when the statistics are separated into age groups. In 2011, Post 9/11 veterans between the ages of 18 to 24, “had an unemployment rate of 29.1 percent” (Institute for Veterans and Military Families, 2012, p. 1). This statistic outnumbered non-veterans of the same age group by nearly 12 percent (Institute for Veterans and Military Families, 2012, p.1). Such high unemployment rates are discouraging for those individuals who have sacrificed for the greater common good. Studies attribute these rates to a variety of factors, including PTSD. Challenges in Employment In their study of 69 companies, Harrell and Berglass (2012) found several common challenges that hinder businesses from hiring veterans. These challenges include skill translation, skill mismatch, and PTSD. Harrell and Berglass (2012) explained “Many firms commented that veterans do not represent their skills and expertise in ways that are relevant to civilian companies and that civilian companies do not know what kind of military skills to seek out” (p. 21). These individuals often experience difficulties applying or translating the skills they have learned in the military to particular civilian job requirements. At the same time, employers often have problems understanding the language and terminology in veterans’ résumés and how these particular abilities apply to their open positions. Harrell and Berglass (2012) detailed this issue in the following assertion: The majority of companies that target veterans for hire either formally or informally reported a lack of understanding throughout the company. Even if a director of military hires knows the types of veterans to recruit, the individual hiring managers do not have the expertise to evaluate the resumes. (p. 21)
An additional challenge companies noted regarding veteran employment is the perceived notion of skills mismatch. Many former service members do not have the necessary prerequisites to be considered for certain jobs or positions. This issue is a concern for newly separated young veterans who have multiple years of work experience but lack college education. Even those who do possess college degrees often lack the experience, knowledge, and expertise of certain industries (Harrell & Berglass, 2012). Furthermore, veterans who do have the skill requisites for positions often do not have the necessary qualifications or certifications. Unlike skill mismatching and translation issues, which are judgments that can be made when simply viewing a résumé, PTSD provides an even greater challenge for veterans in their employment efforts because of the fact that it is an “invisible disability.” An invisible disability is considered one that is not capable of being seen and can involve conditions effecting mood, socialization and communication, and thoughts. In its explanation of the Americans with
Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the U.S. Department of Justice (2008) explained:
An individual is considered to have a "disability" if s/he has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment. Persons discriminated against because they have a known association or relationship with an individual with a disability also are protected. (p. 1)
Although the ADA does not specify a particular list of invisible disabilities, more often than not, those individuals who may suffer from PTSD qualify as disabled, depending on the extent of the disorder’s severity. The major issue PTSD perpetuates as an invisible disability is the fact that many hiring managers and employers have a misunderstanding about it. As a result, hiring managers and employers often display deficient hiring practices. These deficient hiring practices are characterized by fear and lack of knowledge about and lack of experience with PTSD, which leads employers to associate this invisible disability with all veteran candidates. Additionally, hiring managers have displayed deficient employment practices characterized by poor onboarding initiatives that fail to fully acclimate and socialize those who may suffer from PTSD into the organization’s culture. Together, these issues have helped to facilitate the continued high veteran unemployment rate. Veterans’ Perceptions about Employer Hiring Practices
The issues veterans experience transitioning into civilian employment are widely acknowledged. For those who experience a disability, the transition proves to be even more difficult. In the report, Veterans’ Employment Challenges (2012), researchers found that nearly
“23% of respondents with disabilities were unemployed” (p. 6). This number outweighed veterans who did not suffer from disability by five percent (Veterans’ Employment Challenges,
2012, p. 6). The challenges to veteran employment becomes even more concerning when attempting to understand veterans’ perspectives towards hiring managers. Veterans’
Employment Challenges (2012) concluded that “Close to one in four believe that employers simply avoid hiring veterans (24%)- primarily due to… fears of dealing with veterans’ disabilities or ‘too much baggage’” (p. 4). Additionally, in a separate study conducted on veterans’ perceptions towards employer hiring practices, nearly 46 percent agreed that their disability would prevent them from obtaining a job (Rudstam, Gower, & Cook, 2011). Former service members have developed these sentiments because of their exposure to civilian employers’ deficient hiring practices. These deficiencies result from fears and perceptions hiring managers have about PTSD and their general lack of knowledge and understanding towards this invisible disability. Deficiencies in Hiring Practices
Fears about Hiring individuals with PTSD
Individuals suffering from PTSD (or any other invisible disability for that matter), have experienced extensive challenges in gaining employment. In fact, studies note that such indiscernible disabilities pose a greater challenge to employment than those that can be physically seen. In their study conducted on the effects of disclosing disabilities during interviews, Dalgin and Bellini (2008) found that employers rated the employability of candidates with a physical disability significantly higher than those with an invisible or psychiatric disability (p. 6). As cited in Dalgin and Bellini (2008):
The candidate who disclosed a psychiatric disability was the least likely candidate to get hired, and she received the poorest employability ratings. Unfortunately, the negative bias regarding psychiatric disabilities previously mentioned seems to be present, and it continues to be a possible factor in the decisions and opinions that get formed during an employment interview (Berven & Driscoll, 1981; Hazer & Bedell, 2000; Pearson et al.,
2003; Thakker & Solomon, 1999). Hence, this finding suggests that the type of disability does matter to employers, especially when the disability carries substantial negative stigma. (12)
Of the many invisible disabilities that exist, PTSD is one of the most misunderstood and negatively stereotyped. Inaccurate Hollywood films and the media have associated the disorder with fits of violence and mental instability, resulting in an individual characterized as a “ticking time bomb.” Although false, many hiring managers and employers note these common misconceptions as a major reason to fear or avoid hiring veterans with PTSD. In its study of 69 employers’ hiring practices towards veterans, Employing Military
Personnel (2010) indicated that 46 percent of the businesses surveyed identified PTSD as “a major barrier to veteran employment” (p. 10). Additionally, only 22 percent of respondents noted combat-related physical injuries as a challenge to hiring individuals with military experience (Employing Military Veterans, 2010, p. 10). In his study of 831 business employer’s practices towards hiring veterans, Mian (2011) concluded that 39 percent of employers surveyed indicated that they are “relatively less favorable about hiring military personnel when considering war-related psychological disorders” (p. 11). Clearly, there is a discernible disconnect between what hiring managers and employers can and cannot see during the hiring process. Despite statistics supporting that the majority of veterans do not suffer from PTSD, employers often make automatic associations between individuals who wore a uniform with the possibility of having the disorder. This is because of the closely developed relationship between
PTSD and the war-torn veteran population. Even though candidates are not required by law to disclose any disability during the interview process, one can assume employers may make the association that a veteran suffers from PTSD. This association has led to employers and hiring managers often fearing the possibility of a veteran employee uncontrollably committing violence in the workplace. Research conducted regarding employers’ perceptions about PTSD has generated a

common conclusion in which employers have a sense of uncertainty about hiring veterans who

may have the disorder. Rudstam, Gower, and Cook (2012) posed a question to 1,000 HR

professionals, asking them if workers with PTSD are “more likely than others to commit acts of

violence in the workplace” (p. 91). According to their findings “53 percent were unsure if

workers with PTSD are more likely than others to commit acts of violence in the workplace

while 33 percent disagreed” (Rudstam Gower & Cook., 2012, p. 91). Their research also

exposed that of the HR professionals surveyed, 61 percent “showed concern about the possibility

of violence in the workplace posed by workers with PTSD” (Rudstam et al., 2012, p. 94).

Although many disagreed with the initially posed question, Rudstam et al. (2012) proposed that

the respondents’ answers were likely underreported, suggesting employers may not feel

comfortable publicly expressing their true beliefs or perceptions about the disorder (p. 94).

In an additional study on veteran’s mental disorders, Ainspan (2011) suggested that

employers may not hire candidates with unseen disabilities for fear of the possibility of

developing their own disabilities. Ainspan (2011) asserted:

Another barrier is the fact that people without disabilities do have fears, uncertainties,

doubts, and misconceptions about all disabilities - especially hidden ones such as

PSTD… One aspect of it is that non-disabled people fear they could suffer the same sort

of injury and end up with that very disability themselves…. The possibility that one could

incur a head injury tomorrow and end up like that person…can be a terrifying thought for

some people. (p. 2)

As a result of these personal fears, Ainspan (2011) implies that employers may avoid hiring

individuals with PTSD to escape their own fear of one day becoming a victim of the illness (p.

2). Along with the aforementioned fears that are evident when contemplating the possibility of

employing a veteran candidate, businesses often choose not to extend these individuals job offers

because of the uncertainty surrounding the accommodations that such a disorder may require.

Lack of Knowledge, Understanding, and Experience with PTSD In addition to the fears businesses have about the possibility of hiring a veteran candidate with PTSD, research has uncovered data supporting the notion that employers and hiring managers avoid selecting veterans because of their lack of knowledge, understanding, and experience with the disorder; this has manifested further deficiencies in hiring practices that are characterized by accommodation issues. Rudstam et al. (2012) confirmed that 70 percent of
HR professionals in their study “could not identify any possible accommodations” (p. 90) that workers would require. An additional 41 percent “did not know where to find resources to help them accommodate for veterans with disabilities” (p. 92). Furthermore, from the research, they found that 61 percent of employers did not have previous experience making accommodations for individuals who may suffer from PTSD (Rudstam et al., 2012, p. 92). These statistics are overwhelming and confirm the disconnect that exists in the hiring practices surrounding invisible disabilities. Furthermore, the apparent knowledge gap has led employers and hiring managers to develop uncertainties about the possibility of accommodating a veteran candidate. Characterizing these uncertainties are concerns about how much accommodations would cost organizations and the amount of effort required to manage individuals with this disorder. Rudstam et al. (2012) identified that 14 percent of the surveyed HR professionals indicated that accommodating workers with disabilities such as PTSD would be costly (p. 91).
Additionally, 52 percent were unsure of the costs such accommodations would require (Rudstam et al., 2012, p. 91). These perceptions and uncertainties, however, prove to be false. Ainspan
(2011) asserted:
But the costs are just that - a perception, not a reality. In a Department of Labor study of

more than 1,000 employers that made accommodations, nearly half of them (46 percent)

spent nothing on the accommodation. Of those that did spend money, the average outlay

was $500. Almost all of the employers that spent money commented that the benefits and

results they gained from the hire more than made up for the expense. (p. 7)

In addition to uncertainties regarding costs, Rudstam et al. (2012) discovered that employers perceived PTSD accommodations to require more effort from management than those who do not have disabilities. Results from the study uncovered that 61 percent of HR professionals agreed that more effort would be necessary to manage these individuals while an additional 29 percent were unsure (Rudstam et al., 2012, p. 91). These statistics display a clear lack of understanding about PTSD and can lead employers to not extend employment offers to veterans.
Overall, many employers and hiring managers simply are not aware of what PTSD looks like, and lack insight regarding what to expect from those who may have it. Thus, employers’ perceptions towards the high cost of accommodations, as well as the believed amount of effort veteran employee accommodation would require from employers often serve as a reason for managers to avoid hiring veterans.
The Unethical Nature of Perceptions and Uncertainties about PTSD

The research and statistics regarding the hiring of veterans display a clear connection

between PTSD and the difficulties veterans experience in achieving selection in the hiring

process. These difficulties are attributed to the fears employers have about PTSD and their lack

of knowledge and experience with the disorder. Indeed, these deficient hiring practices have a

fundamental impact on veteran unemployment. What makes these practices more problematic,

however, are the ethical implications that have manifested as a result. These implications

include discrimination towards veteran candidates and failure of employers to adhere to their

beliefs in hiring veterans.

The Connection with Discrimination

The fears and uncertainties employers and hiring managers have developed about PTSD

have inevitably resulted in these individuals discriminating against veteran candidates in the

hiring process. The research supporting these perceptions and uncertainties suggest that such

discriminatory hiring practices may be the result of implicit biases that employers and hiring

managers have developed about the disorder. Banaji, Bazerman, and Chugh (2003) described

implicit bias as “judging according to unconscious stereotypes rather than merit” (p. 1).

Everyone has some level of implicit bias that is manifested as a result of associating things that

“commonly go together and expecting them to inevitably coexist” (Banaji, Bazerman, & Chugh,

2003, p. 4). This association is particularly apparent with PTSD and veterans. Although

Dalgin and Bellini’s (2008) study specifically displayed that employers may have a greater bias

towards those who disclose an invisible disability, the issue for veterans is they do not have to

disclose their disorder for them to be at a disadvantage. This is because of the close relationship

between PTSD and the military. Unfortunately, hiring managers and employers identify this

relationship and often fail to discern when it is inaccurate. As a result, these individuals often

make generalizations for an entire demographic by associating veteran candidates with an

invisible disability. Furthermore, these individuals inadvertently discriminate against veteran

candidates.

Regardless of whether the nature of this discrimination is conscious or unconscious,

former service members are thus placed at greater risk of being treated unfairly or unequally in

the hiring process, as employers and hiring managers are fearful or unsure of what they cannot

see, and do not want to preoccupy themselves with accommodation issues. This assertion

becomes more apparent in Harrell and Berglass (2012), in which one employer stated “I think the

only reason companies might be hesitant to hire veterans is because of PTSD. They don’t want to

hire someone who is not only an unknown but may be damaged, too” (p. 24).

Complicating the ethical issue of discrimination are the legal challenges that may arise as

a result of such practices. The ADA strictly prohibits “employment discrimination against

qualified individuals based on disability, perceived disability or a history of a disability”

(Friedman, 2010, Federal Laws Protecting Veterans section, para. 2). As a result of the

discriminatory behavior that employers display towards veteran candidates, businesses are often

in clear violation of the ADA’s laws and regulations. Regardless of whether employers are

knowingly or unknowingly practicing these unethical and illegal behaviors, they still have a

moral obligation to abide by employment laws and to make objective decisions during the hiring

process.

Failure Adhering to Beliefs

Along with the evident discrimination displayed towards veterans and PTSD, many

businesses fail to adhere to their belief in hiring individuals who bring diversity to their

workforce. Many employers identify a moral priority in hiring former service members.

According to Harrell and Berglass (2012), “companies are eager to help and agree that hiring

veterans is patriotic and ‘the right thing to do’” (p. 5). In fact, an estimated 66 percent of

employers proactively seek veterans in the recruiting process (Harrell & Berglass, 2012, p. 12).

Mian (2011) asserted:

Employers expressed sentiments that are widely held among the general public—the U.S.

military is held in very high esteem… Further, many employers believe that due to their

sacrifice, military personnel deserve some degree of leniency in hiring processes.

Comparative analyses indicated clear results: employers have a strong positive emotional

response to the military. (p. 18)

In addition, the effort to actively recruit and hire veterans has resulted in a large number of

businesses incorporating veteran disability in their diversity plans. Rudstam et al. (2011) found

that of the employers polled in the study, “70 percent considered disability in their diversity plan

while 67 percent also included veteran disability” (p. 92).

Although businesses claim to be actively seeking military veterans and focus on

employing them in an effort to foster a diversity inclusive workplace, the research and statistics

supporting employers’ and hiring managers’ fears and uncertainties about PTSD indicates that

they are not holding firm on their beliefs. Despite the considerations that hiring veterans is the

right thing to do, employers clearly are uncertain of the employability of former service members

and avoid hiring them because of their association with PTSD. Moreover, this has led employers

to exclude veterans in employment; a clear violation of their belief in obtaining a diversity

inclusive workplace that includes disabled veterans.

The notion that hiring managers and employers fail to follow their beliefs is additionally

exhibited from a talent perspective. Human capital has become the norm when it comes to

organizations achieving a competitive advantage. As a result, businesses make it a priority to

hire the best overall candidates. In not selecting veterans for employment because of fears and uncertainties regarding PTSD, organizations are doing a disservice to themselves as they are

avoiding a diverse, qualified group of candidates within the talent pool. In fact, it is suggested

that individuals who bring diversity to the workplace are often the most qualified for the position

(Sterba, 2013, p. 218).

The abovementioned ethical implications resulting from deficient hiring practices have

served an integral role in the high veteran unemployment rate. However, PTSD continues to

influence veteran unemployment even after the hiring process. For those organizations that

successfully hire a veteran candidate who may suffer from PTSD, a new challenge emerges that

can impact the ability to successfully retain this new employee: poor employment practices.

Deficient Employment Practices

A major issue for veterans when it comes to unemployment is their ability to successfully

retain employment opportunities. Veterans currently experience three job changes prior to

finding the “right job” (Institute for Veterans and Military Families, 2011, p. 51). This trend

poses an even greater concern for those veterans suffering from PTSD, as these individuals

experience unique challenges in their employment that directly influence their ability to retain

work. Such challenges include proper acclimation or socialization into the workforce, and

physical and mental impairments (migraines, anxiety, mood swings) that can inhibit the veteran’s

ability to conduct work and successfully communicate with employers and fellow employees.

With the implementation of effective employment practices, however, these challenges can be

successfully minimized. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to retain veterans with PTSD

due to their lack of effective employment practices characterized by poor onboarding initiatives.

Failure to Successfully Onboard For veterans suffering from PTSD, successfully retaining work hinges on their ability to become properly assimilated and socialized into the organization’s culture at the onset of employment. The inability for veterans with this disability to successfully achieve this can result in these individuals being less likely to disclose their disability. Additionally, this can lead veterans to develop the perception that the organization does not value them. These issues are the result of employers’ inabilities to properly acclimate these veterans during the onboarding process. In Harrell and Berglass (2012), a surveyed respondent stated:
When on-boarding, if someone has already had roles in the private sector and has made that jump and has been involved in civilian life, they are going to be different to on-board than someone who has served for 20 years in active duty and has no corporate experience. Everyone has a learning curve… It takes people a certain amount of time to figure out how to move from one world to another. (p. 27)
Indeed, onboarding veteran employees requires different practices and methods than with

civilians. This is because of the cultural differences between the military and civilian workforce.

For those with PTSD, proper assimilation and socialization into the company’s culture provides

individuals with needed assurance and support for their illness. Effective onboarding practices,

including allowing sufficient time for the veteran employee to transition, providing the

individual with a competent and objective mentor, and displaying appreciation for military

service can prove helpful in this process. Unfortunately, insufficient onboarding practices that

do not enable veterans to fully transition into the civilian workforce often result in these

individuals feeling as if they do not fit in with the organization’s culture.

The sense of a lack of cultural fit poses a grave problem for veterans with PTSD in their

effort to retain employment. If these individuals do not feel completely accepted into the social

and cultural norms of the organization, it often proves difficult for them to believe that they are

receiving support for their disability. An important issue in this context is the fact that those

veterans who do suffer from PTSD often do not feel comfortable or trusting enough with their

employers and employees to disclose their disability. The National Organization on Disability

(2012) explained: Many expressed concerns about revealing the details of their injuries or the fact that they

had injuries at all to their employers. They believed they would be fired due to the

perception that they could not do the work or that they would carry the stigma of being a

veteran with PTSD. (p. 41)

The problem with the abovementioned information is that employers simply have not done their

due diligence in ensuring the veteran is fully assimilated and socialized into the organization’s

culture. The lack of feeling completely accepted into the organization can result in veterans

developing the perception that the company does not embrace disclosure and disability. Because

of this reason, many veterans fear to communicate their disability to employers. As a result,

these veterans are often prevented from receiving the needed help and support to allow them to

become more successful performing their job.

Failure to fully acclimate and socialize into company culture provides an additional

challenge to veterans with PTSD as they may have the impression that they are not valued within

the organization. This feeling of being undervalued can lead veterans to fear possible

stigmatization about their disability. This notion has a major impact on the ability for veterans

with PTSD to retain their jobs. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (2011)

explained “disabilities, another group that may face employer stigma… has direct relevance to

wounded veterans. Employees who feel valued may have lower absenteeism, and those who

perceive that their employer doesn’t stigmatize may have similar stability and reduced

absenteeism” (p. 52).

The overarching concern regarding onboarding is that all veterans with disabilities

(including PTSD), need support and assurance. Employers can accomplish this by enabling

these individuals to feel included, valued, and accepted into their company’s culture.

Businesses’ inability to successfully achieve this during the onboarding process results in

veterans fearing to disclose their illness and developing a sense of being undervalued. These

sentiments serve as a major reason why veterans with PTSD often are unable to retain

employment.

The Unethical Nature of Employment Practices

Onboarding is extremely important when it comes to ensuring that former service

members are able to retain employment. As previously identified, failing to fully socialize and

acclimate veteran employees who suffer from PTSD can result in these individuals feeling

unaccepted, unsupported, and undervalued. The results stemming from poor onboarding

initiatives become more concerning, however, when considering the ethical implications that can

manifest from these practices. Characterizing these implications is the risk organizations have

of developing an unethical culture due to the perceptions of both veteran employees and

employers, as well as the negative behaviors that risk permeating into the workforce.

Veterans’ Perceptions of an Unethical Organization

The issue of not feeling accepted, supported, or valued, poses a significant problem for

veterans who suffer from PTSD, as these sentiments can result in the individual developing the

perception that the organization commits unethical behavior. John Boatright (2013) explained:

Managers… have obligations to treat each stakeholder group in accord with accepted

ethical standards. These obligations include not only those that are owed to everyone,

such as honesty and respect, but also the obligations to abide by agreements or contracts

made with a firm… Treating all stakeholders ethically is a requirement of any form of

business organization. (p. 70)

Organizations must treat their employees fairly and with respect. Failing to successfully develop

feelings of acceptance, support, and value, however, can result in veteran employees concluding

that their organization is not upholding this moral obligation and that it does not prioritize the

well-being of employees. This perception can be detrimental and cause veterans to feel

uncomfortable with the workplace environment. Additionally, veteran employees can develop

the perception that the organization is not fully committed to ensuring these individuals’ success.

Such attitudes often prove to have a major effect on these individuals’ performance. In

particular, veteran employees risk developing detrimental behaviors that can negatively influence

their own job performance, and facilitate perceptions from fellow employees and employers that

the veteran employee is not practicing good ethics.

Employer and Employee Perceptions Cossack (2012) asserted that “negative and unhelpful attitudes can undermine an employee’s confidence and make it difficult for the person to demonstrate competence in the job” (Employee Relations section, para. 2). As a result, veteran employees who feel as if the organization is not practicing good ethics risk taking part in behaviors that can be detrimental to the organization. These behaviors include decreasing work input, displaying negative attitudes towards fellow employees or employers, and absenteeism. Such actions pose a major risk for organizations, as they can contribute to two particular workplace challenges. First, one may assume that as a result of such actions, employers and fellow employees may perceive that these individuals are partaking in unethical behavior. This perception can result in employers and employees developing a negative attitude about the veteran employee, which can erode any acceptance and support for this individual. Next, the organization risks this behavior permeating into the rest of the workforce. If employers do not take action to cease these individuals’ unethical activities, one can assume that fellow employees may perceive such behavior as acceptable and attempt to emulate it. Overall, it is pertinent for organizations to ensure that veteran employees (especially

those suffering from PTSD), feel supported, accepted, and valued. If organizations are not

successful in promoting these sentiments, they risk having veteran and non-veteran employees,

as well as employers developing negative perceptions about one another. Additionally, these

organizations risk unethical employee practices and behaviors permeating throughout the

workforce. Failure to prevent these issues can facilitate an organizational-wide unethical culture.

Recommendations from a Human Resources Perspective

Although PTSD poses a challenge in the successful employment of veterans, there

are practices and efforts businesses can adopt to increase veteran employment and to minimize

the ethical implications that can result from deficient hiring and employment practices. The

following are recommendations that HR departments must consider when it comes to employing

veterans who suffer (or may suffer) from PTSD.

Increasing Knowledge and Understanding

Perhaps the greatest issue surrounding PTSD and employment is the fact that employers

simply do not have the necessary knowledge and understanding about the disorder. As a result,

employers have developed fears and uncertainties about PTSD. Moreover, employers do not

know how to properly onboard and accommodate veterans who have the disorder. To mitigate

this issue, HR departments must develop, implement, and maintain programs that educate and

train employers, employees, and senior-level managers about PTSD. These programs must

focus on dispelling the myths about the illness, identify its symptoms, and educate

employers and senior-level management on proper accommodations that can be made and

resources that are available to help veterans. Additionally, these programs should edify

employers about the benefits of hiring veterans with disabilities, and teach them how to work

with employees who suffer from PTSD. When implementing such initiatives, HR must develop

specific objectives and goals. These should include training employers on how to make hiring

selections free of the influence of implicit bias, and properly socializing and acclimating veterans

during the onboarding process.

Along with identifying the goals and objectives of these educational and training

programs, HR must plan how the programs will be designed. To begin, such initiatives must be

incorporated into the organization’s overall training and development plan. HR should develop

sensitivity training that would be mandatory for all employees to complete on an annual basis.

Next, HR can lead the development of a PTSD company webpage that provides employers and

prospective candidates with educational material and resources. Additionally, partnerships can

be made with veteran employment and assistance organizations such as Yellow Ribbon and

Veterans Affairs. These organizations can be brought into business offices on a semi-annual

basis to conduct informational presentations that educate employers, employees, and senior-level

management on PTSD in the workplace. Finally, HR can incorporate and lead presentations to

employees and management that foster discussion and awareness about the disability. To make

these presentations more effective, former service members who suffer from the disability may

be brought in to discuss their employment challenges, dispel myths, and describe possible

measures for accommodation in the workplace.

Overall, it is important for HR to ensure that the practices of any educational and training

program are reinforced. The practices within these programs must be implemented on a

continual basis to increase knowledge and understanding, and ensure that hiring veterans with

disabilities is an initiative that the organization’s employers and employees take seriously. With

a greater knowledge and understanding about PTSD, businesses will be able to minimize implicit

bias and discrimination in the hiring process, and develop an understanding of how to

successfully onboard veteran employees. Once these challenges have been minimized, HR may

then begin to implement additional practices that will enable improved employment rates for

veterans.

Developing a Culture that Supports Veterans with Disabilities

Organizational culture can have a major impact on veteran employment. For businesses

to successfully recruit and retain veterans (disabled or not), HR must be at the forefront in

developing a culture that embraces veteran employees. This can be accomplished by

implementing multiple practices. Initially, HR and management must develop and

communicate a new commitment centered on hiring veterans with disabilities. Coordinating

partnerships with veteran employment organizations such as The Tip of the Arrow Foundation,

Wounded Warrior Program, and VetSuccess Program, is an excellent way for organizations to

develop an ample pipeline of talented veteran candidates with disabilities. Additionally, HR can

foster a culture that embraces disabled veterans by implementing practices that show support and

appreciation for military service. HR can partner with senior management in developing

organizational-wide military appreciation events, that recognize and award veteran employees

and their families for their service. HR can also initiate organizational memberships with

Yellow Ribbon and other military reintegration programs and become an active participant in the

reintegration process.

Successful Onboarding Practices

Along with increasing knowledge and understanding about PTSD, as well as promoting a

culture that embraces military service and supports veterans with disabilities, businesses must

incorporate effective onboarding practices. These practices must focus on acclimating and

socializing veterans who do or may suffer from PTSD, and helping them feel supported and

accepted. At the onset of employment, HR should implement a military sensitive orientation

program that allows the veteran employee to meet fellow co-workers in the setting of a relaxed,

laid-back environment. This could also be a perfect time for HR and employers to demonstrate

their appreciation for the veteran employee’s military service. In addition, HR must consider the

cultural differences between the military and civilian workforce, and allow additional time for

the veteran employee to fully transition into the new working environment.

To assist the individual, HR can provide written training plans and coordinate face-to-

face meetings with managers and co-workers to foster successful socialization and acclimation

into the organization’s culture. Next, HR must coordinate frequent meetings with the veteran

employee over the first several months of employment. These meetings should focus on

discussions about the employee’s experience with the organization, and highlight particular

issues and concerns that the individual may have. Finally, it would be beneficial for the veteran

employee if HR assigned him/her a trusting mentor. Mentors may include former service

members that successfully transitioned into the organization, or an employee who is well-

educated on military culture. The purpose of mentoring veteran employees would be to provide

them with a trusting figure with whom they can communicate their issues and learn from.

Together, these onboarding practices can provide a critical advantage in an organization’s ability

to retain veteran employees who may suffer from PTSD.

Embracing Disclosure

The symptoms of PTSD can be difficult to discern. As a result, employers often are

unable to identify when someone may be suffering from it. Additionally, veterans often do not

feel comfortable disclosing their disability to employers. To alleviate these issues, HR must

assist in establishing a culture that embraces disclosure of invisible disabilities. It will be

necessary for HR to develop policies and procedures for disclosing illnesses or disabilities and

requesting accommodations. These must be communicated to all employees, encouraging them

to self-identify and receive help for their work requirements. Furthermore, these policies and

procedures should be implemented into the onboarding plan. Within the first week of

employment, HR should require all new employees (veteran and non-veteran) to attend

mandatory presentations that will educate them on disclosure and accommodations. In addition,

HR must continuously communicate these policies and procedures throughout the entirety of the

onboarding process to reinforce the organization’s commitment and to ensure that employees

feel supported and accepted for their disability. Conclusion Veteran unemployment has been an epidemic in the United States since the early part of the 20th century. Despite Congress’ and businesses’ efforts in recent years to alleviate these high unemployment rates, challenges related to PTSD continue to frustrate veterans in their attempts to obtain and maintain gainful employment. Characterizing these challenges are unethical business practices that foster discrimination towards veterans, and facilitate perceptions and behaviors that can result in an unethical organizational culture. To mitigate these ethical issues, businesses must become educated about PTSD. Doing so will help organizations understand how to incorporate effective hiring and employment practices that eliminate negative perceptions about the disability and enlighten organizations on the measures that can be taken to ensure the successful employment and retention of those individuals who do or may suffer from it. Implementing such practices will provide United States military veterans with improved employment opportunities and ultimately minimize the unfortunately high unemployment rates these former service members have experienced for the last 70 years.

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