Let’s Talk About Mental Health: Helping Transitioning Veterans Thrive

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Mental health issues can impact anyone, regardless of age, gender, or background.

GovCIO’s ongoing, employee interview series aims to help foster a more open dialogue about mental health in the workplace. As a part of this series, members of the GovCIO team are reflecting on some of the most prevalent mental health topics today, along with tips for managing stress and anxiety.

Spotlight on Helping Veterans Manage Workplace Stressors with Candace Burgess

GovCIO Project Manager, Candace Burgess, discusses daily stress factors that Veteran employees may face in the workplace and ways that can help Veterans manage these factors.

“This topic is very important to me as I’m a retired United States Marine and face these issues daily as I battle PTSD from my multiple combat deployments."

Candace Burgess
Project Manager

Many times, employees don’t realize the stress of the workplace. Home, social, political factors all play a key role to the mental toll on an employee health. Often, an employer doesn’t even understand what brings these stressors on daily. It is even more acute for a Veteran employee and much worst for those Veteran employees with disabilities.

In some cases, a Veteran may experience symptoms like those seen in PTSD (e.g., being easily startled), or even OCD (e.g., very organized) but the symptoms might not cause enough difficulty in functioning to warrant a psychiatric diagnosis. An employee with subclinical PTSD, or related symptoms, may/may not need accommodations to help them succeed in the workplace.

Below are some insights and tips to help managers, leadership, and co-workers more effectively communicate, engage with, and support their Veteran teammates.

Common Traits of Veteran Employees

Veterans Are Creatures of Habit

Veterans are creatures of habit; they work best when given a mission a goal.

To keep the stressor down, whether or not job accommodations are necessary, it is important for supervisors, managers, and civilian workers alike to recognize the knowledge, skills, and experiences developed through military service are strengths that Veterans bring to the civilian workplace.

This very service comes with certain behaviors and attitudes that Veterans often display their reintegration to the civilian workforce. These behaviors  can be misunderstood and taken as “too direct or aggressive”. This is not the case; it is just the training they received to get the mission accomplished the most effective way possible. Veterans do not receive any transition training when they exit their branches of service on how to effectively identify with their civilian counterpart(s).

Veterans Feel Pressure to Accomplish "The Mission"

If challenges do arise, it’s important for leaders to be aware that not all stressful challenges facing Veterans are indicative of a mental illness or PTSD. Many times, those stressors come from the military service, home life and the constant pressure to accomplish the mission. This is a direct reflection of the training they received and a proven quality that main employers desire but often don’t understand unless they have prior service themselves.

Veterans Struggle With the Transition to the Civilian Work Environment

Veterans entering the civilian workforce face unique challenges, the biggest challenges of which is the lack of an established network at their new jobs. This makes their transitions to civilian life more difficult, including how to properly communicate/demonstrate proven skillsets within their new work environments.

Veterans may also encounter, though well–intended, insensitive questions, presumptions, or labels from co–workers, or even supervisors. An example of this is when Veterans avoid certain groups or people to reduce triggers or avoid being bombarded with questions about to their service. This can potentially cause co-workers to perceive them as not social or not being a team plater, leading to estrangement, overthinking, cautiousness, and isolation in the workplace.

Tips for Helping Veterans Thrive in the Civilian Workplace

Coping with Stress

Time Management