The Army Times is currently running a series of articles on veterans' unemployment. Increasing attention is focused on this issue, and for good reason. What do employers need to know about PTSD, disability, and hiring veterans?
1. It's illegal to choose not to hire veterans because you're afraid they might have PTSD or reserve service commitments. Veterans' organizations and the Department of Defense are finding more and more evidence that many employers shy away from hiring veterans because of exaggerated worries about PTSD or other disabilities. Veteran job-seekers also report that employers sometimes seem more concerned about Reserve or National Guard commitments than about the applicant's job qualifications. Remember, if you refuse to hire a veteran because you think she probably has PTSD or because you're concerned about his military obligations, you're violating federal law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal to discriminate against qualified applicants because they have a disability or because you think they might have a disability; this is includes PTSD and related issues. The Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) makes it illegal to discriminate against applicants because they are veterans or because they have obligations to the National Guard or Reserve.
2. An employee with PTSD is not a danger to the workplace, and most with disabilities need only minor accommodations. Despite the media hype, PTSD does not make veterans violent, unstable, or dangerous. In fact, most of the violent acts that made headlines in recent years, like the 2009 Fort Hood shooting and the 2012 Mount Rainier shooting, had nothing to do with combat stress at all.
Common symptoms of PTSD include: nightmares and/or trouble sleeping, being jumpy or easily startled, trouble concentrating, emotional numbness, impatience or irritability. More severe symptoms, like flashbacks, are relatively rare and still don't lead to workplace violence. All of these symptoms can be managed and improved with treatment and the support of friends and loved ones, and most returning veterans know how to recognize these symptoms and seek help.
Veterans with physical disabilities will require the same accommodations as non-veterans with comparable disabilities. Those who are dealing with PTSD and other combat stress-related issues are likely to need little, if any, actual accommodation from their employers. Likely accommodations for veterans with PTSD include occasional time off for a therapy or counseling session, which usually won't take much longer than a regular doctor's appointment.
Military veterans tend to be incredibly resilient people. The average veteran has spent years learning to "Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome" in conditions far worse than a busy day at the office, and they will do so. Veterans also tend to be team-oriented, and they understand what it means to have other people counting on them to pull their weight, and they will, even with a disability.
3. Business can qualify for tax credits for hiring disabled or previously unemployed veterans. Veterans have a lot of to offer any civilian company - leadership experience, an appreciation of diversity, self-discipline, adaptability, and poise under pressure. The 2011 American Jobs Act also offers employers direct financial incentives to hire veterans.
The Returning Heroes Tax Credit gives employers a tax credit of 40% of the employee's first $6,000 in wages (with a $4,800 limit) for hiring veterans who have been unemployed for at least four weeks; for hiring veterans who have been unemployed for at least six months, employers can qualify for a tax credit of 40% of the employee's first $14,000 in wages (with a $5,600 limit).
The Wounded Warrior Tax Credit qualifies employers for a tax credit up to $4,800 for hiring a disabled veteran. For hiring disabled veterans who have been unemployed for at least six months, employers can receive a tax credit of $40% of the employee's first $24,000 in wages (with a $9,600 limit).