5 Toxic Stereotypes Of Veterans In The Workplace

Americans today have high regard for veterans. In a recent nationwide survey, civilians considered Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to be more of a "valuable asset" to this country than teachers, colleges and the Supreme Court. It's a far cry from this country's attitude toward the vets of Vietnam, who received no hero's welcome and often hid their service to avoid being on the receiving end of epithets.

But if the returning vet is no longer greeted with scorn, many are still greeted with stereotypes. The unemployment rate for veterans is significantly higher than the national average, and stereotyping by employers is one of the half dozen or so reasons why, according to Nathan Smith, the chief operating officer of Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit that helps veterans find jobs.

More:Veteran's Jobs That Pay Over $60,000

And sure enough, when the Center for a New American Security surveyed representatives from dozens of companies, many said negative stereotypes were one of the challenges associated with hiring veterans. Here are five of the most common stereotypes veterans face on their return:

5 Stereotypes Of Veterans
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5 Toxic Stereotypes Of Veterans In The Workplace

In 2009 a video appeared on the Penn State website for Counseling & Psychological Services to address "Worrisome Student Behaviors." It was about a teacher trying to handle a veteran student, who had bad grammar, couldn't really understand the assignments, and always seemed "on the verge or losing his temper." The video was soon taken down.

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more educated than the civilian population, but only 19 percent of the public believes that's true, according to a recent survey by veterans advocacy group The Mission Continues and the production company Bad Robot.

Only 8 percent of veterans 25 and older didn't have a high school degree in 2009, compared to 15 percent of the population as a whole, according to the census. After all, the military rarely accepts candidates without a high school diploma.

And the percentages of veterans and civilians past age  25 who have a bachelor's degree are very close: 26 percent and 28 percent respectively, according to 2009 census numbers.

Over a quarter of the public thinks returning Afghanistan and Iraq veterans are more likely to suffer drug addiction or alcoholism than non-veterans. But most studies have found similar alcohol and drug abuse rates among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and non-vets. According to a paper published in February, drinking patterns are roughly the same among young adults, whether they've served in military or not, and while veterans between the ages of 61 and 70 were more likely to binge than non-veterans of the same age, veterans between 41 and 60 were less likely to.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder blight the lives of so many of the returning vets portrayed in Hollywood films, like "The Deer Hunter," "Taxi Driver," "First Blood," "The Manchurian Candidate" (the original and the remake)  and "Brothers," it's little surprise that most Americans think a majority of our homecoming troops have the condition, according to The Mission Continues survey.

Various studies, however, have found PTSD rates among troops deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq to be between 9 and 20 percent -- a significant portion of our servicemen and women, but a far cry from a majority.

A "Dr. Phil" show in April, "From Heroes to Monsters," featured a few veterans with PTSD, who discussed their violent rages and the fear of what they might do to their families. One beat his wife and set her on fire. Another described repeatedly stabbing an enemy combatant in the face to vent his anger, even after he was dead.

The show didn't sit well with some veterans, including those who have PTSD, and don't like the world thinking that they're "monsters." Anger and aggressiveness, while commonly publicized symptoms of PTSD, are in fact some of the least commonly experienced. Veterans with PTSD are far more likely to be prone to avoidance, intrusive memories and depression.

When someone has spent 10 or 15 years in the military, many employers are skeptical of the kind of transferable skills they might have, according to Nathan Smith, the COO of Hire Heroes USA. He says the assumption is: "All they did was follow and take orders."

In reality, Smith says, the majority of service members were working in offices, dealing with issues such as transportation and logistics. "These are very translatable and valuable skills that have been put to the test in very extreme circumstances," he says. "And they were given vast responsibility for people and equipment," he adds, way beyond anything most private sector employees deal with.

And while the skills of combat troops might be harder to list on a resume, Smith says that their leadership and problem-solving capabilities make them ideal employees. "They're trained to deal with almost every circumstance without direction," he says. "And they're very trainable. They're used to receiving instruction, becoming experts, and instructing others in turn."


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