Exiting the war zone, entering the workplace

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The exact numbers of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder is hard to determine. Back in 2004, the U.S. Army released a report that found that 1 in 8 veterans suffered from PTSD. A 2008 Rand Corporation study put the number at 1 in 5.

There are roughly 2.2 million Iraq and Afghanistan vets who have returned to civilian work — or are looking for jobs — making PTSD education in the workplace more critical than ever.

Many psychologists point out that even veterans who aren’t officially diagnosed with PTSD often struggle with some aspect of the disorder.

“In my experience, it takes about a year to reacclimate — and that’s for almost any veteran,” says Dr. Keith Armstrong, co-author of “Courage After Fire,” a guide for veterans returning to civilian life. Armstrong has counseled PTSD victims through the Department of Veterans Affairs since 1989. “There is often a disconnect between the importance of what they were doing and the kind of mundane tasks that many of us do on a day-to-day basis. When you’ve had your life on the line, you just have a different perspective that’s sometimes hard for others to understand.”

As of 2010, the unemployment rate for Iraq/Afghanistan veterans was slightly higher than the general population.  But returning to a regular work schedule can help ease the effects of PTSD, according to Armstrong.

“After serving in combat, people come back and sometimes they find themselves stuck, unemployed. That can leave you feeling really terrible about yourself. You might ask yourself, ‘Why did I serve my country?’” says Armstrong. “Anything we can do to get veterans working and re-establishing their purpose is phenomenally healing. Work is one of the best mental health treatments there is.”


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