The weekend homicides of ex-Navy SEAL and “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle and a friend in Texas have stoked fresh concerns among mental-health experts and veteran advocates that the crime’s PTSD theme will further stigmatize and dampen an already-soggy job market for men and women home from war.
“What worries me about this story is it will frighten potential employers away from hiring veterans who have been in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Dr. Harry Croft, a San Antonio-based psychiatrist who has talked with more than 7,000 veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
“The myth is all of them have PTSD — not true, only 20 percent. Another myth is that all of them who have a severe case of it — not true; it goes from very mild to severe. The third myth is that everybody with PTSD is aggressive, unreliable, or trouble in the workplace, and none of that is (true) either. It scares me,” Croft said.
The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was 11.7 percent in January compared to 9.1 percent in January 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Younger female veterans grappled with a 17.1 percent unemployment rate last month — virtually unchanged from one year ago — while the unemployment rate for younger male veterans was 10.5 percent in January, which marked an increase from 7.7 percent during the same month in 2012.
“One of the things I talk about in the presentations I give to employers is how the stigma of the crazed vet like Sgt. (Robert) Bales, or, now, this young man in Texas, is very rare and it’s atypical. Now, that doesn’t mean that a vet with PTSD doesn’t have anger and agitation issues. But generally, it’s worse at home than it is at work,” said Croft, who co-authored “I Always Sit with My Back to the Wall: Managing Traumatic Stress and Combat PTSD.”
Chris Kyle, a sniper in Iraq, was so feared that he was dubbed "The Devil of Ramadi" and had an $80,000 bounty on his head. Tragically, it wasn't enemy fire that killed him, but a fellow soldier asking for help with PTSD. NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports.
Eddie Ray Routh, 25, a Marine Corps corporal from 2006 to 2010 who deployed to Iraq in 2007, was arraigned Sunday on two counts of capital murder in the deaths of Kyle, 38, and Chad Littlefield, 35, at a shooting range in North Texas. Both men were killed with a semi-automatic handgun.
According to Erath County Sheriff Tommy Bryant, Routh "may have been suffering from some type of mental illness from being in the military himself." Bryant added that Routh's mother possibly contacted Kyle to try to help her son. The sheriff also learned, he said, that the three men might have been at the range “for some type of therapy that Mr. Kyle assists people with.”
Some veterans who toil in the job-mentoring trenches to try to deflate those unemployment stats share Croft’s concern that Texas shootings may bolster an existing PTSD stigma and inject more doubt into the minds of some hiring managers.
“Unfortunately, I think that’s a possibility,” said John E. Pickens, executive director of VeteransPlus and the Yellow Ribbon Registry Network. VeteransPlus has offered financial counseling to more than 150,000 current and former service members. The nonprofit also has partnered with The WorkPlace, Citi and Wal-Mart to help long-term, unemployed veterans improve their job candidacies and find work.
“But I’m not sure how to address that (stigma) because for those people who read something like this and take away a negative impression, it’s very difficult — other than having a one-on-one, good experience with a veteran — to be able to overcome that,” said Pickens, a former Army combat medic.
Iraq veteran Ed Richardson, who’s now attending college but who’s been scouting for a job since December 2011, has watched employers offer subtle signals about his war service during job interviews.
“I’ve had people’s body language completely change with me — their eyes get large and they want to lean back in their chair” when the topic arises with hiring managers, said Richardson, 49, who is in the Army Reserves and who lives in Kentucky. “Some ask me: ‘Have you had any issues? Because some veterans have had the problems.’
"Being a veteran and having that going against me (in job hunting), you have to have something to counter it and I believe having an associate degree can help, or preferably a bachelor’s degree,” Richardson said. He ideally wants to work in federal law enforcement. “But I’m very positive about my outlook.”
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