We Should Change The Meaning of PTSD

PTSD -- The four letter word is a job killer for veterans looking for employment. That's what I learned while sitting in a meeting this past week.

I sat with a small group of formerly homeless veterans and a few leaders of veterans service groups in an abandoned building that was once home to a Bank of America branch.

The meeting felt a little bit like an encounter group, and part focus group. Led by the former Mayor of Santa Monica, Bobby Shriver, and U.S. Congresswoman Janice Hahn, we were discussing how the federal and county governments could help those who have fought for our country. Particularly, those veterans who ended up on our streets.

Within this group, I fell into the category of "leader" since the agency I lead helps house thousands of veterans who
used to live on our streets. We, leaders, discussed the demise of capital funding to build new affordable housing units. We also discussed the importance of public and private partnerships in order to house our homeless veterans.

We need those landlords to open up their units, groups to help provide furniture and household goods, and more funding for housing vouchers. The private sector needs to partner with federal and local government entities to overcome the devastating crisis of homelessness among our returning veterans.

After we, leaders, said our piece, those who endured the battlefield said theirs.

Expressing their concerns were several women veterans who sat on their chairs with determined faces, strong voices, but with tentative dispositions that revealed difficult experiences that they probably have not shared with anyone.

Their sagas of returning home were hauntingly similar, as if they had walked in each other's shoes. Their resumes reflected employable skills and amazing experiences. But when they listed their experience as a United States veteran of a recent war, those potential employers seemed to flinch.

As if these veterans had listed on their resume: time in prison.

The congresswoman, rightfully so, was aghast. "You are our nation's heroes. You are not a liability!"

Somehow, for many potential employers, a veteran means a person who has experienced such trauma that he or she goes crazy upon returning home. Or, as one member in the group said, "They think we will "go postal', shooting up everyone at work."

That fearful stigma of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) has turned into a sad state of normalcy. Since when do we send our women and men out to defend our country, to then treat them as society's pariahs on their return?

Perhaps to alter our society's perspective on struggling veterans -- especially those who struggle on our streets -- I think we should change the definition of PTSD.

Instead of defining it as some sort of crazy disorder, let's turn this four letter word into a description that reveals the very soul of one who has fought for our country: PTSD -- Proud Tactician, Strong Doer.