Job hunting for veterans with PTS made easier

Jonathan Kaupanger
March 07, 2018 - 2:11 pm

Photo by Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group/MCT/Sipa USA

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“They think you’re mental,” said Michael Butcher, talking about looking for a job.  After being injured while serving in Iraq, he was forced out of the Army.  In the three years after that, he put in at least 25 job applications. “I was even turned down by McDonalds,” he said.

“I get ridiculed every time I had to go to a medical appointment, said Denita Hartfield, another Army veteran.  “I’m not what people think a disabled veteran should look like.”

The Los Angeles Times interview with Butcher and Hartfield took place almost eight years ago, but for many veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS), these issues continue to happen daily when looking for a job. Stigma about PTS, according to the VA’s National Center for PTSD, creates concerns for some employers about hiring veterans. 

For its part, the VA has been helping vets find employment.  The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) webpage has many ways to train and help veterans find jobs. In some cases, you can even receive a subsistence allowance from VA while you are in training. But there’s a brand new program that is changing the way VA looks at getting veterans jobs.

Individual Placement and Support (IPS) was a five year study at the VA and the results were released last month. IPS helped almost twice as many veterans with PTS get steady jobs. 

In the past, the VA used transitional work programs where veterans would have sheltered, temporary jobs that most often were entry-level. This was to reinforce basic work skills. Then, there would usually be a short-term job located in a VA medical center. After that, the program would end.

IPS is personalized to fit the veteran’s needs,  it starts with an interview to explore the needs and ambitions of the veteran. Employment specialists from the community are used to work on individualized job development.  They spend time networking for the veteran and come back with job opportunities based on the vets experiences, interest and background.  Outreach on behalf of the veteran and support for them continues until the vet is in a stable job and long-term career development for the vet starts. 

According to study author, Rich Toscano, IPS was designed specifically for people with complex mental health challenges. Through this program, veterans “Improve self-esteem, increase social and quality of life, heighten awareness about the importance of overall health care, contribute to better control of systems and reduce substance use.”  He also says that improvement in these areas reduces the use of expensive in-patient services too.

The program is also implemented throughout the VA healthcare system. Cleveland’s Louis Stokes VAMC already has a designated an IPS specialist on staff to serve veterans.  At VA’s Tuscaloosa medical center they are looking at implementation of IPS in with primary care teams. There are also projects funded by both VA and private partners to add IPS to the medical centers in Massachusetts and New York City.

There’s an extra bonus: vets who have entered the workforce with this new program tend to make more money too! In the initial study, veterans earned 33 percent more money than those who used VA’s more traditional job-placement methods.