Invisible Wounds Hurt Veterans Job Chances/ LA Times/ Alexandra Zavis

Invisible Wounds Hurt Veterans’ Job Chances

This saga has been underway since the first troops rotated after the Shock and Awe bombing of Iraq in 2003.  For the past 7 years only one mission has been accomplished, the war side one.  Post war battles are harder to fight, because the soldier is not armed with the emotional weapons to overcome a bio-chemical make- over of  their entire being. At least not in the employers minds.

I predicted this patriotic hypocrisy following the first retreat I attended in 2005, for returning combat veterans. There were 19 at the workshop, and 11 of them had trouble getting their jobs back after deployment.  Four of them were engaged in lawsuits with former employers. They were all reservists who by Federal Law must be allowed to return to their jobs after being called up for duty.

What was the Employers response to these young warriors? “Sue me, then.”  So much for the yellow ribbons.

And this is just the first wave of troops rotating home. We think we have an unemployment problem now?  Wait for the next wave to hit the barren beaches of bleakness in the economy.  I remember well 1973 when no one wanted to hire a Vietnam Veteran.

There is, however, an aspect to this job placement dilemma that is really quite positive. Now the VA cares. Now our current Administration cares. Now there are mentoring programs and vocational rehabilitation that never existed in my era of suppression and repression of all war related matters.  We are a bit more enlightened about a soldiers needs. That is a good thing.  The funding and support for these programs needs to be ongoing and stable until every Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman, and Coast Guard combatant are safe at home.  Without that assured commitment, we will only see a deja vu of the self destruction and homelessness that visited us in the veteran community for the 25 years following the end of the Vietnam War.  There were no yellow ribbons then, just suicides.  We can do better, and will.   Mike Brewer/USMC

The article follows.

Michael Butcher has applied for at least 25 jobs since injuries he suffered in Iraq forced him to leave the Army three years ago.

“I was even turned down by McDonald’s,” said the 29-year-old San Diego native.

The military is known for developing leadership, adaptability, loyalty and teamwork. But Butcher said when he tells employers he needs time off to see therapists for post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury, they don’t call back.

“They think you are mental,” he said.

After nearly a decade of war, many U.S. military veterans have lived through extended periods of combat stress and the trauma of losing colleagues. Nearly a third of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of PTSD, severe depression or traumatic brain injury, according to a 2008 study by the Rand Corp.

Many of these new veterans struggle to find and retain civilian jobs. Not only are they returning to the worst economy in decades, advocates say, but many employers do not know how to accommodate these invisible wounds and worry that they might “go postal.”

“If you are a person with a lost limb, it’s a little more straightforward what you might need,” said John Wilson, assistant legislative director for Disabled American Veterans. “You might need a different kind of keyboard or voice-recognition software to do the typing.”

But employers may not know what to expect from a person with PTSD or a brain injury. The symptoms can include severe headaches, memory lapses, poor concentration, slurred speech, loss of balance, a short temper and anxiety in a crowd.

“These elements can make it a challenge to do everyday activities in the workplace,” said Raymond Jefferson, assistant secretary for the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service in the U.S. Department of Labor. “But there are very reasonable accommodations employers can make to allow wounded warriors with PTSD and [brain injuries] to be high-contributing, high-performing members on the team.”

When the Society for Human Resource Management surveyed its members in June, 46% said they believed post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues posed a hiring challenge. Just 22% said the same about combat-related physical disabilities.

Although media attention has helped make the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD and traumatic brain injury a government priority, veterans say it has also contributed to the stigma associated with these wounds.

“They hear so many stories on the news — this soldier got back from Iraq and killed his wife — which makes people a little reluctant to hire you,” Butcher said.

Butcher deployed to Iraq in 2003 as part of a tank crew that repeatedly came under fire. One hot day he left a hatch open and the force of a grenade blast slammed his head against an iron shield.

Many veterans are using education benefits to improve their qualifications. But when Butcher enrolled in community college, the sight of Muslim students kneeling to pray triggered terrifying flashbacks. He left after one semester.

A friend helped arrange an internship at a computer manufacturing company, but Butcher said he got into frequent arguments with co-workers. After four days, he was asked to leave.

Butcher said he has since learned to walk away when he gets angry and uses weekly counseling sessions to relieve stress. But he said the flexibility he would need from an employer puts him at a disadvantage compared to job seekers who don’t have special needs.

Officials with the U.S. departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor and Defense have worked to assure potential employers that the mental and cognitive disabilities of many veterans can be accommodated with little expense and minimum disruption.

Short rest periods — no longer than a smoking break — can make a big difference, said Ruth Fanning, who heads the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service. The department also pays for adaptive technology, such as electronic organizers to help keep track of appointments and white-noise machines to reduce distractions.

Denita Hartfield, a veteran now working from home, takes a digital recorder into every meeting, writes lists in color-coded notebooks and covers her workspace with Post-it note reminders. A striking woman, fashionably attired, with a master’s degree in criminal justice and weapons of mass destruction, Hartfield struggled as dean of students at a business school because her disabilities were not immediately apparent.

“I need my appointments to live,” she said.
Hartfield now wants to set up her own business advising veterans and employers how to work together. She says more open communication would have helped in her case, but at first she did not want to acknowledge her disabilities.

“One of the problems is so many folks aren’t even talking about their invisible wounds,” said Tim Embree, legislative associate for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “The issues are different with every individual, so what I think matters is that the individual understands what’s going on as well as the employer.”

To help employers better accommodate the mental health issues veterans face, the Department of Labor has set up a web site, America’s Heroes at Work.

Many veterans find civilian work with the U.S. government, which is one of the largest employers of former military personnel; they make up a quarter of the federal workforce. About 40% of the staff at VA medical call centers in Northern California are disabled veterans, many of them with PTSD or brain injuries, according to Project Hired, the nonprofit contracted to run them. Los Angeles Habilitation House is training 18 veterans with invisible wounds to provide contract management services to the government.

They include Ronta Foster, a 49-year-old father of two who has cycled between the Army and low-paying civilian jobs for years.

He was diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury after deploying to Iraq in 2003 but traces the symptoms back to a beating he received outside a German nightclub in 1982.

“The opportunities have been far and few for me,” Foster said. “This here is going to give me an opportunity to start another career and take care of me and my family. That’s all I have been wanting to do for 30 years.”

Some companies also seek out veterans. Joshua Stout is one of 80 people recruited through Northrop Grumman’s hiring program for severely wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. A former Marine who served in both wars, he now works as a project manager at a plant in San Diego that is developing an unmanned surveillance plane for the Navy.

The company consulted occupational nurses on how to help the 27-year-old manage PTSD and a brain injury. They showed him how to set reminders on his computer and arranged his cubicle so co-workers could not come up from behind and startle him.

Stout said he struggled to learn how to manage databases, but his supervisor worked with him until he could remember the steps.

“I get a lot of self pride out of working for this company,” he said. “I’m still supporting the troops and I’m still defending freedom.”

Although accommodations have to be made, Karen Stang, who manages the hiring program, said managers appreciate what veterans like Stout bring to the company.

“They bring loyalty, a great work ethic, commitment,” she said. “It’s been a real win-win.”

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

5 thoughts on “Invisible Wounds Hurt Veterans Job Chances/ LA Times/ Alexandra Zavis”

  1. Mike,
    I am the publisher of DARK MATTER PTSD.  This is an autobiography from Bruce H. Gilkin.  He is a Vietnam Veteran who has been living with the affects of PTSD since 1982, when he had total shut down.  The book is a whole new way of tackling the invisible war within the soldier (regardless of time and place of service).  The paperback version sold over 200k copies.  The hardback is now available.  I would be pleased to send you a copy of the book for your review.  The book has been turned into a screenplay and is in the pipeline as a major movie production.   

    If you are interested, please contact me and I’ll send you your own book.  In the meantime you can search the web:;; facebook/darkmatterptsd. 
    -Angelique Orbach

  2. Thank you so much. Yes, I would love a copy. I will email you with my address. My son Ryan is a Film School graduate, and I am a Disabled Veteran myself. Let me know if we can be of any help. Sort of like “Dale Dye”, advisers.

  3. There needs to be more support legally, with employment law, and advocacy for getting work. Making sure the results are carried out. Help with the Veterans benefits with real results in a timely manner. Some Veterans are not experiencing negatives, but just because you are not having any problems, please don’t get in the way of helping the rest of us Veterans. Many instances intentional harm, discrimination, unlawful actions committed against, badgering, antagonizing, harassment, sabotage, and blockage towards the Veterans in employment. When the employer and any employee is responsible committing these actions, by not allowing help causes destruction in the Veterans life. As a disabled female Veteran I have experienced much of these harms. They were not held accountable as of yet. When reported was retaliated and slandered. When made complaints and tried to get legal help was targeted. If we would have help when unfairness, wrong doing, and any ill willed actions are taken towards us Veterans each time any wrong was committed, hold the person or persons, entity, and employer responsible this would help with many issues, and which would be solved. But when you allow a group of people to toy, taunt, and bully a disabled Veteran, all that was a part and aware that choose to do nothing, should be held accountable as well. False hope, false help, pretend actions. Referring us to interviews, and appointments, ect., when they knew there would be no intentions in carrying out and real help, real results, real employment, and getting hired. Many times in employment because of being a disabled female Veteran and because what I was requesting help for I was discriminated, and intentional targeting. Because there has not been enough help in correcting many wrongs perpetrators that commits these unlawful harms / actions, continually bullied to destroy the person, and intentional discrimination against, because of not respecting females, disabled Veterans, and because they feel they are above the law. The affects have caused our lives to be in ruin. We keep on reporting, keep on requesting help, but too many times we are not respected and not heard, instead some officials allow us to be targeted just like what happened the other day at school. You wonder why over sixty percent of the homeless are Veterans, and why we are committing suicide thought out United States. It is how we are being treated. Too many instances the help that is being claimed does not come about, however they are paid. For those that have served and provide all to have a chance in our Country, I thank you.  For those that are helping us Veterans I thank you.  However, I will continue to seek justice for the harmful committed against me!!

    1. kr, It breaks my heart to hear these stories, and I know they are all too frequent. I have attended workshops with Vets4Vets in their early stages of developing the program, where I met a bunch of women who all had stories similar to yours. I am only a tough Marine to a point…..these women made me weep with the tales of abuse they had received inside that Armed Forces. That is like having PTSD twice!  One Nurse was raped right at the end of a combat mission being completed. No one would listen to her for well over a year, because that Officer was up for Colonel!  “let me at him,” is the way I felt.
      Women in the workplace have fought too  hard for equity, and then to have it all crash because of being a disabled veteran, is one hell of a burden to carry.
      I am a Veteran Service Officer and know employment law relatively well. If I can help, let me know.  Of course the complicated part is that anyone who is viewed as a fighter for their rights—-the very reason one is in the Armed Forces….to protect our rights, is in turn thought of to be a potential problem employee. So you have a classic “Catch 22″ from the get-go. There should be 100% disabled veterans companies, and let them have a tax break.  You know that phrase….”money talks and bs walks.” But of course that will not help jerks behave any better.

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