That’s what I learned while sitting in a meeting this past week 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, led by the former Mayor of Santa Monica, Bobby Shriver, and U.S. Congresswoman Janice Hahn, felt like it was part encounter group and part focus group. We discussed how the federal and county governments could help those who have fought for our country, particularly those veterans who are now living on our streets.
Within this group, I fell into the category of “leader,” because PATH has helped 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 landlords to open up their units, volunteer 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 each said our piece, those who had endured the battlefield said theirs.
Among those expressing their concerns were several women veterans who sat on their chairs with determined expressions and strong voices, but tentative dispositions that suggested difficult pasts.
Their sagas of returning home were all 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, potential employers seemed to flinch.
Employers reacted the way they’d be expected to react if an applicant listed time in prison.
The congresswoman was rightfully aghast.
“You’re our nation’s heroes. You are not a liability!”
Somehow, for many potential employers, a veteran is viewed as a person who has experienced such trauma that he or she goes crazy upon returning home. Or, as one member in the group put it: “They think we’ll ‘go postal’ and shoot up everyone at work.”
This stigma surrounding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has become sadly normal. How can we send our women and men out to defend our country, only to treat them like social pariahs after they return?
If we want to alter our society’s perception of struggling veterans—especially those who struggle on our streets—maybe 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 truth about someone who has fought for our country:
PTSD: Proud Tactician, Strong Doer.