Understanding Veteran Mental Health and How You Can Help
Post-traumatic stress, or PTS, is a disorder that has demanded increased attention over the years in both the medical and military communities, especially after the end of the Vietnam War. Veterans who suffer from PTS may have experiences that trigger unwanted memories that can result in heightened reactions, anxiety, and depression. The same symptoms associated with PTS were previously attributed to informal concepts, such as Shell Shock and Operational Exhaustion. The recognition of PTS and its association with veterans led to an influx of concern and consideration for veterans, particularly those who’d seen combat.
Veterans are at high risk for developing PTS or a depressive disorder. According to the RAND Corporation’s Invisible Wounds report, 18.5% of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan have PTS or depression, and 19.5% report having a traumatic brain injury (TBI). RAND reports that among those veterans, only about half seek treatment, and only half of those who seek care get the minimal amount of adequate care.
In the past, mental health has been stigmatized or completely ignored. As modern psychology continues to develop, mental health is increasingly being seen as equally as important as physical health. New medicines have been developed to help combat mental health disorders. New therapy methods offer additional coping mechanisms and allow participants to better understand their problems.
There is still much more to be done when it comes to eliminating the stigma associated with mental health issues and encouraging veterans to reach out. According to an article by Managed Healthcare Executive, veterans often shy away from mental health treatment because of the remaining stigma around mental health and a military culture that encourages strength in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, unaddressed mental health issues often lead to other issues, such as substance abuse, isolation, and even suicide.
It’s important to be aware of the mental well-being of the veterans around you. Treated or untreated, understanding veteran mental health helps mitigate worsening symptoms. Knowing the symptoms of common veteran mental health disorders, as well as having basic skills to interact with a veteran with a mental health issue, can create trust and increase the possibility for success in helping them find employment and rebuild their lives.
The VA takes veteran mental health very seriously, offering an array of free programs and resources for veterans to access. They keep an up-to-date Mental Health page on their website covering a number of topics, as well as a useful tab that aids veterans who aren’t sure where to start with getting help.
MentalHealth.gov is another valuable website, compiling multiple resources for veterans, as well as general mental health information. It also covers basic definitions around mental health and describes ways to find support.
Recognizing and addressing mental health has improved tremendously over the past few decades. However, we as a society still don’t treat mental health with the same gravity as physical illness. As mental health studies continue to evolve, you can be a voice for its importance and help advocate for veterans to get the help they need.
Refer to the resources below for information about mental health:
MentalHealth.gov homepage – https://www.mentalhealth.gov/
MentalHealth.gov help for Service Members and Their Families – https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/veterans#veterans
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health page – https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/index.asp
Invisible Wounds Report by RAND – https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9336.html
Community Organization Model Tackles Veterans’ Mental Health Issues by Managed Healthcare Executive – https://www.managedhealthcareexecutive.com/military-mental-health/community-organization-model-tackles-veterans-mental-health-issues
PTSD History and Overview – https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/history_ptsd.asp
The Best Jobs and Fields for Veterans
Veterans have a variety of skills that lend themselves to many career fields. Some veterans pursue careers that closely mirror their work while in the military, leveraging skills gained during their service; other veterans look for careers that will allow them to gain additional skills and pursue fields outside of their comfort zones. Regardless of whether a veteran wants to seek employment that provides work similar to their experience during service or explore an entirely new area, there are many career paths to refer veterans to for employment.
As per an article on ZipRecruiter, veterans often enjoy working closely with others in hands-on roles. Additionally, industries such as security, construction, and supply chain/logistics typically employ large numbers of veterans because jobs in those fields offer work similar to the work veterans performed in the military. However, there are many fields suited to veterans. An article by Orion Talent lists some of the best industries and job positions for veterans across sectors. The company lists the following industries as key ones to consider as you help veterans find employment:
- Aerospace & Defense
- Logistics & Supply Chain
- Oil & Gas
- Pharmaceuticals/Medical Device
- Power Generation
- Renewable Energy
Being informed about the job market, different industries, and specific job information can help you inspire and motivate veterans to find work that’s meaningful to them. This kind of information and data can help a veteran who is unsure about their next steps in employment figure out what opportunities to seek out. While veterans’ professional desires will vary from person to person, it’s important to recognize emerging trends.
In your day-to-day work as a veterans’ employment specialist, it’s critical to always focus on the individual veteran you are directly helping, and learn about their specific needs, passions, and skills.
For resources on job fields and jobs that are appealing to veterans, check out the articles below:
Industries and Positions for Veterans by Orion Talent – https://www.oriontalent.com/military-job-seekers/industries-positions/
The 12 Best Job Industries For Veterans by ZipRecruiter – https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/the-12-best-job-industries-for-veterans/
The 8 Best Cities For Veteran-Friendly Jobs by ZipRecruiter – https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/the-8-best-cities-for-veteran-friendly-jobs/
The Top-Rated Workplaces for Veterans in 2019 by Indeed.com – http://blog.indeed.com/2019/11/06/top-rated-workplaces-veterans-2019/
Jobs For Infantry Vets: What You Need to Know by MilitaryTimes – https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/2019/12/15/jobs-for-infantry-vets-what-you-need-to-know/
How to Hire Veterans
Military service is a life-altering endeavor that influences all aspects of a person’s life after service—including employment. Transitioning from military to the civilian workforce can take many months, or even years. However, this transition from soldier to staff member can be made easier by employers.
Veterans are often the most dedicated, team-focused, self-starting population in the workforce. According to a brief published by Syracuse University’s Institute For Veterans and Military Families, there is a strong business case for why companies should hire veterans. The Institute found that:
- Veterans are entrepreneurial.
- Veterans assume high levels of trust.
- Veterans are adept at skills transfer across contexts/tasks.
- Veterans have (and leverage) advanced technical training.
- Veterans are comfortable/adept in discontinuous environments.
- Veterans exhibit high levels of resiliency.
- Veterans exhibit advanced team-building skills.
- Veterans exhibit strong organizational commitment.
- Veterans have (and leverage) cross-cultural experiences.
- Veterans have experience/skill in diverse work-settings.
These are essential skills to succeeding in any company setting.
However, veterans sometimes have difficulty finding consistent work, which can leave them feeling misunderstood or isolated. Some even feel there’s a disconnect between them and employers, and that their skills do not translate in civilian markets. While it can be a challenge to explain to potential employers how the work of a former service member fits into a new workplace setting, the benefits are endless, as demonstrated above.
So what are the ways an employer can leverage these skills and this workforce and effectively engage veterans in the hiring process?
Many industries that hire a lot of veterans have already built a large veteran presence over years of business. A joint Veteran Hiring Guide between Monster.com and Military.com says the best way to hire veterans is through recruiting practices. Having recruiters who are veterans themselves, as well as reaching out to an organization that connects veterans with employers, are both excellent methods to hiring veterans.
Veterans typically maintain robust social and professional networks with other veterans. LinkedIn reports that 28% of veterans in their first year of transition stay within veteran networks, whereas only 1.2% venture into civilian networks. Hiring veteran recruiters or having veteran connections in recruiting is one of the best ways to effectively engage with veterans as these connections allow for employers to tap into their veteran employee networks to enhance their recruitment efforts.
If a company doesn’t have veteran recruiters, another option is to connect with veterans through veteran hiring resources. There are multiple federal and non-federal programs that connect veterans to employers. American Job Centers are one of the primary resources to contact to learn about veteran employment. Others include: Soldier for Life, Marine for Life Network, Small Business Administration’s Office of Veterans Business Development and Veterans Business Outreach Centers, the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, and more. DOL VETS maintains a list of organizations to reach out to in their Employer Guide to Hiring Veterans. Additionally, this resource also provides excellent supplementary information about hiring veterans, including best practices around hiring and retention.
To hire veterans, a company must understand veterans, who may not have the same experiences, references, and perspectives that civilians have. If companies want the advanced skillsets veterans bring, they must understand the differences between veteran and civilian applicants. Cultivating this understanding paves pathways to meaningful, loyal employment and hard work and dedication.
Be sure to check out these two excellent resources on hiring veterans:
Honoring the Employers who Hire our Nation’s Heroes
Honoring the Employers who Hire our Nation’s Heroes
The HIRE Vets Medallion Program will soon accept applications for the HIRE Vets Medallion Award, the only federal-level veterans’ employment award that recognizes a company or organization’s commitment to veteran hiring, retention, and professional development. There are three company sizes for application:
- Small Employer (1-50 Employees)
- Medium Employer (51-499 Employees)
- Large Employer (500+ Employees)
There are two medals companies can receive: Platinum and Gold. Learn more about the award criteria, the benefits of the program, and how employers can apply at https://www.hirevets.gov/.
This is a great opportunity for companies to show their commitment to hire and retain veterans. It also solidifies and highlights partners in our shared endeavor to hire veterans.
HIRE Vets also maintains a resource page with information on applying to the Medallion Program, hiring resources, a factsheet, digital toolkit, and more. It can be viewed here: https://www.hirevets.gov/resources
The Battle after Service: Suicide Prevention for Veterans
For many veterans, long after their service has ended, another battle begins. But this battle isn’t fought with fellow soldiers using military tactics to defeat a common enemy. This is a solitary battle, an internal battle, fought within the mind and heart—making it one of the most challenging battles a veteran can face.
There were more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2016. In 2016, the suicide rate was 1.5 times greater for veterans than for non-veterans. According to a Department of Veterans Affairs study, 20 veterans take their own lives each day.
While suicidal thoughts can impact anyone, veterans are especially prone to suicidal ideation and action as a result of the PTS that can accompany military service. A number of factors, including extended times at war, severe combat conditions, brain trauma, and life-lasting physical injuries, contribute to the high number of veteran suicides. While this tragedy is still pervasive among veterans, there have been strides in providing resources and support for veterans struggling with suicide.
In 2007, Congress passed the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (JOVSPA) of 2007. This law supported the creation of a comprehensive program to combat suicide among veterans. The law, which was named for a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom who died by suicide in 2005, directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to implement a comprehensive suicide prevention program for veterans, which includes staff education, mental health assessments, a suicide prevention coordinator at each VA medical facility, 24-hour mental health care, and other resources and services.
One of the most effective and critical supports that veterans can have when facing suicidal thoughts is other veterans. Veteran support groups, such as the Road Home Program in Chicago, provide individualized care and navigation of services to help heal the invisible wounds of war. Peer support groups sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs also provide outlets for veterans to share their emotions with others who have had similar experiences.
Other, less traditional forms of connecting and sharing are also becoming more prevalent. StoryCorps, whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world, has an entire collection devoted to military voices. Watching and listening to these stories can help veterans feel less alone in their experiences. Additionally, Make the Connection, a website devoted to capturing and sharing stories of recovery from veterans, allows you to filter by era, branch, combat experience, and many other categories, enabling those who visit the site to find the stories and testimonials that are most relevant to them.
Because of their strong rapport and meaningful relationships with veterans, LVERs and DVOP specialists are in the unique position to observe a veteran’s demeanor and mood. If you recognize any of the following signs of suicide, you should reach out to the resources listed below. Veterans who are contemplating suicide can feel hopeless, trapped, or agitated; have persistent trouble sleeping or eating; feel rage or anger; engage in risky activities without thinking of the consequence; increase their drug or alcohol use; withdraw from family and friends; or feel like there is no reason to live.
These men and women have served our country; it’s up to the entire community to serve as part of their support system.
Resources for Veterans in Crisis:
- US Department of Veterans Affairs, Mental Health Website: Https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/ - This website connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with qualified, caring VA responders through a confidential toll-free hotline and online chat, regardless of enrollment in VA care. If you are thinking about death or suicide, call the Veterans Crisis Line now at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, use the Veterans Crisis Line online chat, or send a text message to the Veterans Crisis Line at 838255. The Veterans Crisis Line offers free, confidential support, 24/7/365.
- Mission 22: Https://www.mission22.com/about - Mission 22 is a non-profit that combats the ever-rising veteran suicide rate. Mission 22 has three main programs; veteran treatment programs, memorials, and national awareness. Mission 22 provides treatment programs to veterans for Post-Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury and other issues they might be facing.
- National Center for PTSD, Peer Support Group: https://www.ptsd.va.gov/gethelp/peer_support.asp - This resource sets up veterans with peer support groups. Peer support groups are led by veterans for veterans. Groups often meet in person, but many groups also provide online support.
If you are aware of any other resources, please share them with the community at the Making Careers Happen Community of Practice, on NVTI Student Central.