Thinking of hiring a veteran? It's the right thing to do and may come with tax incentives or other financial benefits. And it's a smart move, since veterans, with their military training, tend to make highly disciplined, motivated, and skilled employees.
You can set your new veteran employee up for success with a few simple steps, according to Harry Croft, MD, an army veteran and psychiatrist who has evaluated several thousand combat vets, and author of I Always Sit With my Back to the Wall. Here's what he recommends:
1. Learn the facts about PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is enough to frighten many employers out of hiring a combat veteran, especially as the trial of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan, gets underway. But employers who balk at hiring combat veterans because they fear PTSD are likely making three wrong assumptions. First, they may be assuming that all combat veterans suffer from PTSD, which is not the case. Second, they may assume that those with PTSD always or often turn violent, which is often untrue, especially in the workplace, where military discipline makes such behavior especially unlikely. More common PTSD symptoms include withdrawal from social groups, irritability, and sleeplessness and/or nightmares.
Finally, skittish employers should not assume that non-veterans don't have PTSD, which can be caused by a variety of traumas, including physical or sexual abuse in childhood. "I've heard figures as high as 10% of the general population having PTSD," Croft says.
A veteran who is suffering from PTSD may be reluctant to accept that he or she needs help, Croft adds, and can probably benefit from a veterans' support group, Croft adds. (More information about veterans and PTSD here.)
2. Be prepared for a culture clash.
Unless your company has a military culture, hiring a veteran will be a bit like hiring someone from another country: Experience and expectations will be different from those of your civilian employees. "For example, I talked to a vet and asked him what upset him at work," Croft says. "He said, 'They called a meeting for 2 o'clock. I showed up at ten till 2. The other monkeys showed up at 2:15.'" The vet's boss was astonished at his strong negative reaction and told him to calm down, that the tardiness was not that big a deal. "In the military, it's a big thing to follow the rules or somebody could get hurt," Croft explains.
3. Tell civilian employees what to expect.
Another frequent source of tension for combat vets in the civilian workplace is large amount of curiosity about what things are really like "over there." While it's completely natural for those who've never been to war to want to know what it's like first-hand, this can present a problem for veterans who are often reluctant to discuss their combat experiences with members of the general public.
Veterans may become outsiders in your organization, and will sometimes keep themselves apart, especially if they're suffering from mild or severe PTSD. And that can lead to trouble. "Some fellow employees may find the startle reflex funny," Croft says. "Somebody makes a loud noise or touches the veteran from behind and the vet has a startle response. They think it's funny and do it again."
4. If possible, hire more than one.
"Most veterans are used to working in groups, so if there's an opportunity to hire vets in teams or pairs, that might be helpful, if for no other reason than so the vet has someone to talk to," Croft says. One vet may counsel another, for instance, not to overreact when civilian employees ask questions about being in combat. "They'll take that advice more easily from other veterans," Croft says. "And it won't have to get to the manager or HR."