News Details

To hire a veteran is to help a veteran

Source: Stamford Advocate
Published: Monday 29 April, 2013

Robert Stokes' op-ed, "America's Walking Wounded," published April 19 in The Advocate, highlights the ongoing tragedy of post-traumatic stress syndrome and U.S. military veterans' suicide rates.

When it comes to figuring out why vets commit suicide, we know there are many reasons, but standing out among them are feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Fortunately, there's an extraordinary effort being made by the Veteran's Administration to address this, and it should be an important mission for American businesses as well.

One vital step to restoring veterans' well-being is giving them a job. I visited the Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center on April 23 to learn more about what companies can do to hire vets, and in the process learned that having a job can have an extraordinary healing effect on vets who have been out of work.

"For a formerly homeless vet, the rise in self-esteem that comes from getting a job is exponential," Dr. Joan Ryan, a psychologist at the Philadelphia VA, told me.

She went on to describe that the structure of coming to work every day can itself be protective against many of the feelings that can make a person feel suicidal.

But the issue for many employers is the well-being of the workplace, as well as of their other workers. They worry that the veteran who has issues of depression or PTSD, or is recovering from an addiction problem, may not be up to the demands and stresses of employment.

Between 11 and 20 percent of veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars reportedly suffer from PTSD, and research from the Center for New American Security shows that some employers see PTSD as a barrier to hiring any veteran. A company needs workers who are reliable and can get the job done, and employers feel they are taking a risk in hiring a potentially troubled vet.

This is where the VA is taking action. At the Philadelphia VA and other veterans hospitals around the country, they have a transitional program for helping veterans who've been unemployed to re-enter the work force. Currently, some 70 veterans have transitional jobs at the facility, such as food service or custodial work. While there, those in the transitional program have coaches and therapists who help them along the way. Only when they are ready do they go out into the community to seek regular employment.

The companies hiring these veterans get an immediate credit of up to $9,600 for hiring a disabled worker. But in addition, the newly hired vet will still have the support system and coaching available from the VA. They will be good workers and they have a support system to fall back on if needed. The VA does not want their veterans to fail.

Along with this noble work being done in Philadelphia and at our other VA hospitals, America's employers have some work to do, too. They need to change their perceptions about giving veterans a job.

Hiring managers, senior executives, department bosses and co-workers all need to understand that PTSD can, with care and understanding, be accommodated in the workplace. The Veterans Administration is proving that every day.

There's no one cure for the epidemic of suicides described by Robert Stokes in America's Walking Wounded. However, giving a vet a job is one really good approach.

I am proud to be part of a family company that is working to do more to hire veterans, and I hope other employers will try contacting their local VA office for information on hiring vets. You're likely to find that VA officials are more than eager to assist in your efforts, and the veterans you hire will be more than grateful.

Mitzi Perdue of Salisbury, Md., wife of the late Frank Perdue, is a past president of the 35,000-member American Agri-Women.