515-223-5119 info@ineda.com

By Will Rogers, Director of Government Affairs [willr@ineda.com]

I served in the United States Army from 1989 to 1992 and engaged in combat as part of Operation Desert Storm. After my time in the service, I came back to Des Moines and joined VFW Post #9127 in Beaverdale, eventually becoming Post Commander in 1998. Through the VFW, I got to know hundreds of my fellow Veterans, and many of them were experiencing some level of hardship with their mental health.

As of today, there are roughly 19 million people in the United States who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. And over the past 20 years, 3 million people have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

As an employer, hiring a Veteran who is struggling with their mental health might seem too difficult or challenging at first. However, under the right circumstances, you might find one of your hardest working and most loyal employees by hiring a Veteran. Having a conversation with the prospective employee about their needs is a good place to start, so long as you don’t run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or any other federal or state employment laws.

Veterans’ struggles with mental health aren’t a new thing. As long as there has been wars and military conflicts, service members have been wounded, maimed, and killed. And when we see a Veteran who has lost a limb or been paralyzed, we empathize with that person’s physical injuries. It is often the unseen and undiagnosed issue of Veteran’s mental health that is elusive and therefore not given the attention it deserves.

One of the many issues regarding the general subject of mental health is the stigma surrounding it. Even still today, mental health issues can be seen as a weakness or cowardness. Eliminating this stigma is important to helping someone struggling with their mental health seek treatment and begin to heal.

The term “post-traumatic stress disorder,” or PTSD, came into widespread use in the 1970s in large part due to the diagnoses of United States Military Veterans of the Vietnam War. It was officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980. According to the RAND Center for Military Health Policy Research, 20 percent of service members who served in either Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from either major depression or PTSD. And of that number, 19.5 percent of Veterans in these two categories have experienced a traumatic brain injury.

These three service-related disorders alone have an enormous impact on the demand for Veteran mental health treatment. Untreated, these mental health concerns can have a profound impact on a Veteran’s ability to lead a normal life. They can result in the inability to work and provide for their economic needs, often leading to abuse of self-medication with alcohol or drugs, resulting in family conflicts, suicide, violence towards others, or prison time.

Young Will Rogers in U.S. military uniform and face paint

Often, Veterans with PTSD are normal, productive, and disciplined people. But this normal state can be disrupted by a trigger event. These can consist of loud noises such as car backfire, the sound of gunfire, or a scream from a child. A smell, flashing lights, or even another person can cause an episode. But mental health problems aren’t always permanent and can be addressed proactively.

Traditional mental health therapy can significantly improve quality of life for a Veteran. But there are also some emerging treatments that are showing amazing results. In addition to treatment, the U.S. Armed Forces and Department of Veteran Affairs have made great strides to diagnose and treat PTSD and other mental health issues. Just a few examples are:

  • The Veteran In-Patient Mental Health Program at dozens of VA hospital around the country specialize in assisting Veterans with mental health diagnoses.
  • The 24-hour Veteran Crisis Hotline is aimed at suicide prevention and extending help to veterans and their families in critical times of need.
  • Private sector mental health care providers in rural and remote areas are receiving more access to funding and treatment options.

One last advancement that has been considered a major improvement is the discharge upgrade. Previously, when a service member receives a dishonorable discharge, they are barred from accessing the VA Medical System. Through the new discharge upgrade program, the military has now created an opportunity to discharge these service members in a way that will allow them access to healthcare, disability payments, and employment in state or federal government jobs.

According to the American Legion’s “Guide for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” employers may consider one or more of the following accommodations when hiring a Veteran with mental health issues:

  • Allow the employee to take a break and go to a place where s/he feels comfortable to use relaxation techniques or contact a support person.
  • Allow for a flexible start/end time or allow employees to work from home.
  • Allow the employee to make up any time missed.
  • Identify and remove environmental triggers such as particular smells or noises.
  • Allow the presence of a support animal which is now protected by the ADA.
  • Encourage the employee to walk away from frustrating situations and confrontations.
  • Provide disability awareness training to coworkers and supervisors.

As an employer, you know that not every person you hire will work out. You may have had a bad experience in the past hiring someone with mental health struggles. I encourage you not to let that experience keep you from recruiting and hiring Veterans to be a part of your dealership. The next person you give a chance to might be your best employee yet.

For more information regarding hiring of Veterans with mental health issues, please contact Will Rogers at willr@ineda.com.