The Capitol Record

Military veterans with PTSD face employment challenges, stigma

War veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder are often stigmatized by employers, making it hard for them to find a job after they’ve left the service, a representative from Sen. Patty Murray’s office told a military committee today.

“Are they going to go postal? That’s what we hear from folks,” said Kristine Reeves, the South Sound regional director for Murray’s office. Reeves said veterans face a “high stigma,” and it’s an issue that Washington state will have to deal with as its military population continues to grow.

More veterans are making Washington their home after being discharged from the service. Joint Base Lewis-McChord is the fourth most-requested separation location in the nation, Reeves said. “When people come here, they want to stay here,” she said. “But what does that mean for the state?”

Reeves told the Joint Committee on Veterans’ and Military Affairs that some policy changes are improving the situation, including new guidelines for diagnosing PTSD issued by the Army Surgeon General’s Office after complaints arose at Madigan Army Medical Center.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is also hiring about 1,600 new mental health professionals, Reeves said.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said those mental health professionals need to be evaluated themselves, citing the shooting spree by a Ft. Hood army psychiatrist that killed 13 people. “We can’t let just anybody work with our service members,” Roach said. “I’m very leery about how you are getting them and how they are getting screened.”

Veterans are “very resilient and want to readjust,” said Tom Schumacher, the PTSD director for the Washington Dept. of Veterans Affairs. But that can be a challenge for soldiers who come home and feel disconnected because they just left their military “family” — other soldiers who they ate, slept and lived with during deployments, Schumacher said.

Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, said the unemployment rate among veterans remains higher than the rate for civilians, and asked that the committee discuss the issue further at a future meeting.

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