Helping Veterans with PTSD Find a Good Civilian Career Fit

Posted November 19, 2012

By: Goodwill Industries International Veterans and Military Families Program Manager, James Lander and Tacoma, Goodwill Industries Veterans Career Navigator/Program Manager, Mike Tassin

We know that veterans bring incredible skills to any workplace. But, if you’re a veteran who has recently separated from the military, you may be have concerns about re-entering civilian life. You may wonder if you’ve made the right decision to separate, yet you are likely excited to start a new chapter in your life.

Transitioning into the civilian workforce can feel even more overwhelming if you’re one of the approximately 20 percent of veterans returning from recent war theatres with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

It’s important to note that most veterans—more than 4 in 5—do not return with PTSD. Yet, for those that do, you are not alone. Along with almost 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, close to six million Americans deal with PTSD each year. PTSD occurs with various levels of severity and—in almost all cases—can be dealt with in a way that allows you to be a productive and efficient member of your workplace.

At Goodwill®, we understand veterans’ complex employment needs, and we offer some tips to veterans dealing with PTSD to make your transition more manageable and successful.

Understanding Your Triggers
Learning as much as you can about your PTSD triggers and reactions is an important first step to your reemployment process. Ask yourself:

• What types of environments cause your symptoms to flare up? Consider elements such as noise, light, workspace configurations and stress levels.

• How do you react when you are experiencing symptoms? For example, do you find it hard to concentrate or remember tasks, get angry at those around you, become physically ill, etc.?

• When you’re experiencing PTSD symptoms, are there effective coping strategies such as deep breathing, taking a walk or calling a supportive person that you can implement?

Understanding your triggers, reactions and coping mechanisms will put you in a better place to identify appropriate work environments as you transition into your civilian career.

Choosing a Civilian Career Path

Looking for work with PTSD requires not just determining which positions are a good fit for your work history, but also evaluating which career fields and industries will be the most supportive to you and your situation. These may be different from the field you worked in during your military service, but should still be a good fit for your personality and abilities.

For example, veterans who experience repeated flashbacks or other intense symptoms may wish initially to avoid jobs in high-stress settings or in an environment in which safety issues could be a concern.

Talking to Your Employer

Reporting to an employer that you have a diagnosis of PTSD is a personal choice, and one that each veteran must answer independently.

PTSD is a disability, and is covered under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This means employers are prohibited from treating you unfavorably because of your condition, and that you are entitled to reasonable accommodations in order to perform your job.

Despite these protections, there are still better times in the job search process to reveal your diagnosis. Demonstrate to a potential employer that you have the skills to be successful in the position and, once it looks like they are moving toward offering you the job or you have the employment offer in hand, concisely explain your condition and the accommodations you need to be successful.

Working with community organizations like Goodwill that have experience placing veterans in jobs can also help you make connections to employers who recognize your contributions and who are sensitive to your needs.