PTSD stereotypes often hold veterans back


We often speak of veterans of our military as being someone to be thanked, appreciated, and honored for what they've done for our country. Yet when entering the workforce, many employers harbor fears that these same veterans, and their potential exposure to violence and training with weapons, might be violent or problematic.

The stereotypes usually associated with veterans, especially combat veterans, is one of a mixture of toughness and brutality with a strong sense of honor and duty. These are fostered by the media, movies, books, and television. Yet most veterans were not in combat and those that were are not likely to fit the stereotype used in media. Instead, they're just like the rest of us, only more experienced with dealing with pressure and exercising self-restraint.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is often associated with the military's veterans. Clearly it is a concern for those soldiers and their families. It is not, however, a "problem" in the sense that employers may believe. Vets with PTSD don't often "snap" and if they do, it's usually to cry or release emotions in non-violent ways. The television and film portrayal of a veteran "snapping" and attacking or killing people is, in real life, so rare that it statistically is difficult to measure.

Here's how the numbers play out:
The Institute of Medicine estimated that 13-20 percent of the 2.6 million U.S. service members who've served in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 have PTSD. That's about 2.6 to 4 million PTSD sufferers. The National Institute of Mental Health says that about 7.7 million total U.S. adults (veterans and non-vets) have PTSD. That's roughly 3.5 percent of the population. That's about a third of the total U.S. adult population with a mood disorder.

Studies, including one published last year in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology have generally found that returning veterans with PTSD are about twice as likely to be arrested from criminal behavior as are those without a diagnosis. When compared to general population statistics, the roughly nine percent of veterans with PTSD who are arrested is about double the national average from the general population.

This doesn't sound good except it doesn't account for violence. Most arrests are for non-violent behavior. Of the nine percent of veterans in the study who committed criminal acts, only one percent were violent. Most were drug-related, usually marijuana or similar drugs for self-medication. This compares with the general population favorably, as about 2.5 percent of the crimes committed are violent - more than double the number for those with PTSD.

Altogether, this shows that the veteran with PTSD is more likely to get in trouble (likely due to not seeking treatment until after the trouble starts), but far less likely to be violent by comparison to the average American on the street.

This should tell employers two things: the veteran is less likely to be violent, not more likely, and the mental health care we offer our military veterans is still sorely substandard.

This lowered statistic comes thanks to what the military teaches: discipline, leadership, and responsibility. All things any good employer will value.


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