Post-traumatic stress and the job search

Sarah Minnis, PhD, Military Veteran Career Transition Coach

June 27, 2017

Post-traumatic stress (PTS) has been well-documented and recognized as an effect of military service. Whether labeled soldier’s heart, shell shock, battle fatigue, combat stress, or post-traumatic stress, the results of experiencing overwhelming trauma and life-altering situations leave lasting impacts on many who have served. For some service members, processing those experiences and finding a way to fit them into their life schema is more challenging than for others. They find that reliving the traumatic event, avoiding situations that are reminders of the event, negative changes in beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up or extra-reactionary becomes a daily challenge that interferes with their ability to navigate life. For up to 20% of military veterans, including student veterans, this is their experience.

Whether diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, or not, PTS can impact student veterans’ daily lives both in the classroom and outside in their activities and personal lives. As they move through their education and begin seeking internships and post-graduation employment, student veterans impacted by PTS may find that engaging in job-search activities becomes more challenging. Networking, a key part of the job-search process, can feel like an overwhelming obstacle when a student veteran is in a crowded and unfamiliar space with multiple entry and exit points. The stress of meeting with many new people in interviews can seem like a daunting task for a student veteran used to a routine and predictable schedule. Discussing their military work in interviews can make student veterans feel uncomfortable as they recount situations exemplifying their skills which may have been traumatizing. What should be an exciting and future-oriented experience moving into the civilian employment world can, instead, become an obstacle and significant roadblock for student veterans challenged by PTS.

Fortunately, there are a number of things that we can do to help student veterans manage and overcome PTS so they can be successful as they move through higher education and go through the job-search process towards a civilian career. One of the most impactful things you can do is get to know your student veterans and build trust with them. Learn about what they need to be most successful and help them by identifying resources on campus and in the community that will be of use to them. This means you also need to get to know the people and resources around you that are capable and prepared to support student veterans. Engage your student affairs colleagues in dialogue about PTS noting that, while any of your students may be impacted by PTS, student veterans may experience it in a very different way. Forge relationships with student health, counseling, and wellness partners. Work with them to develop programs for student veterans that can be supportive lifelines for those in need. More than anything, spread knowledge about the realities of PTS: what it is and what it is not. By creating greater awareness and providing supportive resources, campus communities can positively impact student veterans’ experiences managing and overcoming PTS in higher education.

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