Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel Catch-22 is a witty, ironic discussion of the double binds our WWII troops faced due to the military bureaucracy. But here’s the thing: More than 50 years later, this double-bind hasn’t gotten any better. The term Heller coined to describe “no-win” military policies can still be used to describe many of the situations our veterans face as they return home from war. The latest Catch-22 for our heroes? Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder stigma in hiring.
In a recent New York Post piece, numerous veterans describe this Catch-22 in blatant terms: If they disclose that they suffer PTSD, the New York Police Department won’t hire them. But if they hide their PTSD from the military (and the NYPD, which receives the military’s medical files), veterans run the risk of losing their health care if the condition gets more severe.
One veteran said he passed the NYPD entrance exam in 2006, before his tour overseas. When he developed PTSD from the fighting and admitted it to the military, they shared that information with the police department. NYPD then disqualified him from serving on the force.
This is where PTSD stigma has gotten our veterans.
Although it’s understandable for a police department to require mental health screenings for officers who may have to use deadly force, that doesn’t change the fact that our veterans are in a devastating double bind. Our veterans still face dire jobless rates,and often turn to addiction or self-harm when they have nowhere else to go for help. Seeking help should be seen as honorable, courageous and an important step in taking care of one’s health; but because of the stigma surrounding PTSD, a veteran wears a scarlet letter as soon as he or she divulges any PTSD symptoms. It’s time for stigma to stop trumping our veterans’ strengths and virtue.
One way to decrease these ill feelings toward PTSD, a condition affecting nearly one-third of our troops is to ramp up public education efforts. Our veterans and their families aren’t the only ones who need to understand what it means to live with this condition; employers and other civilians are a big piece of the puzzle. When we teach employers and the public to understand and accept PTSD as a treatable condition, we are helping our veterans slowly break free from this stigma.