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Is public talk about PTSD making it harder for vets?

Ryan Gallucci is an Iraq war veteran, currently serving as deputy national communications director of AMVETS and editor of American Veteran magazine. He served in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, earning a meritorious Bronze Star for his work in civil reconstruction and public administration. He left the Army Reserve in 2007 as a sergeant.

Ryan Gallucci. (Courtesy of AMVETS)

Since men and women started returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, much attention has been paid to military mental health and the invisible wounds of war--particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

With suicides among veterans outpacing battlefield combat losses, the military and the veterans' community have made a concerted effort to help those suffering from combat stress-related conditions seek the care they need, and the media has reported extensively on these efforts. But is there a downside to all this public attention?

In light of daunting unemployment figures among young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, AMVETS has heard from many young veterans who have experienced some kind of passive discrimination in their own job hunts. Civilian employers have balked at the potential negatives that come with hiring a veteran, such as the perception of instability.

Over the last few years, veterans' advocates and media outlets have called attention to how PTSD is a normal reaction to the abnormal and profound realities of combat. This message was intended to help veterans recognize it is okay to seek counseling while readjusting to civilian life. Unfortunately, the public may have received the message differently, assuming that all of today's military men and women must suffer from some kind of mental illness. In spite of all the "support the troops" rhetoric, this attitude is unfortunately reminiscent of the repugnant Vietnam-era stereotype of the crazy veteran.

To those of us who live inside the military bubble, it is hard to understand why a veteran would not be an attractive candidate to a potential employer. We work well under pressure, we have proven leadership skills, we are often responsible for handling expensive equipment and sensitive information. Plus, we are punctual, selfless and professional. Why do we continue to fail to convey these overwhelmingly positive characteristics to potential civilian employers?

Last month, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than 30 percent of veterans ages 18-24 are unemployed--nearly twice the national average compared to their non-veteran counterparts. Though we could point to transitional program shortfalls as a contributor to this unconscionable figure, we must also ask whether we have actually succeeded in dispelling the negative stigma associated with military mental health, or whether all of the attention has only exacerbated the problem, further degrading the public's perception of today's veterans.

What's your view? Tell us about your experiences either as a returning veteran, family member, employer or observer of this phenomenon. Post your comments on the comment board below, and thanks for joining the conversation.

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By Ryan Gallucci  |  April 26, 2010; 9:19 AM ET
 | Tags: AMVETS, Afghanistan and PTSD, Iraq War, Mental health, PTSD, Posttraumatic stress disorder, Ryan Gallucci, Veteran, Vietnam War, jobless veterans, veterans, veterans and employment  
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