Veterans, PTSD and Employment


What is the relationship between military deployment and employment upon returning home? How does wartime service impact the future earnings of veterans?   Is there a link between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and unemployment?

A recent study from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Unemployment among Recent Veterans during the Great Recession by Jason Faberman and Taft Foster, found that recent veterans have higher rates of unemployment than non-veterans or older veterans. Taking demographic variables and economic cycles into consideration, the report concludes that the rigors and aftereffects of wartime deployment do have an impact on employment upon return.

A technical report from RAND, takes a closer look at one of the potential impacts of serving during a conflict, namely PTSD, among reservists and post-deployment employment earnings.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and the Earnings of Military Reservists by David S. Loughran and Paul Heaton (e-book is available for download at the RAND website), examines data on PTSD symptoms in reservists completing deployments from 2003 to 2006 and labor market data in an effort to determine a relationship to employment earnings.  The data initially indicated that reservists with symptoms of PTSD  earned less income the year following their return than their counterparts not experiencing symptoms. Additional analysis showed that some differences were present prior to deployment, specifically lower average earnings and a lower level of education.  Further, the researchers found that the gap in employment earnings was greatly minimized (down to a range of 1% – 4%) through the accounting for demographic variables and use of statistical models.

Although the gap in earnings between reservists symptomatic of PTSD post-deployment and those who were not is much smaller than initially indicated, the report suggests that there may be a relationship between PTSD symptoms and underemployment.  Also, the authors note that their study focused primarily on the first year post-deployment, and some manifestations of PTSD may occur at a later point in time.

PTSD makes up 65 percent of the disability claims of recent veterans, according to a 2013 survey from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).  Half of the IAVA survey respondents had friends or family suggest that they seek treatment for a mental health injury, while 37 percent of members knew a veteran who had committed suicide and just under a third (30 percent) had considered it themselves.  Although the data on the relationship between PTSD and unemployment is mixed, the challenge to find work while being open about experiencing PTSD is a real one.   The dialogue and the research need to continue.