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Job prospects for veterans who left the military after 9/11 have improved this year. That's the good news. Now, the bad. Their unemployment rate still tops the national average and some vets suspect their disabilities are hurting their chances of getting work.
As Erin Toner of member station WUWM reports, this new generation of veterans is being told to carefully consider what they disclose in their next job interview.
ERIN TONER, BYLINE: Twenty-six-year-old Army veteran Justin Claus is looking for a document that proves he was in the military. It's called a DD214 and he's rummaging through a cluttered desk in his living room in Racine, Wisconsin to find it.
JUSTIN CLAUS: Yeah. Let me see if I can dig it out here.
TONER: A DD214 is the document you get when you leave active duty service and it basically sums up your military career, including the reason it ended.
CLAUS: Disability permanent. I swear it says that.
TONER: You had an honorable discharge, but that little line that says disability permanent...
CLAUS: Is what comes back to get you.
TONER: Here's why. When Claus goes to job interviews, he brings along his DD214 because he's proud of his service and hopes being a veteran will give him an edge. He says, when employers ask why he was discharged, he recounts a parachute accident in 2007 that left him with chronic back and knee pain.
CLAUS: And I tell them what happened and then they're like, oh. Usually, they - shortly thereafter - end the interview and I don't hear anything from them.
TONER: Claus does not share the fact that he also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but suspects employers assume that any veteran who served after 9/11 has PTSD. He has no proof he's not getting hired because of his disabilities. But for some jobs, Claus says he just can not make sense of the rejection.
CLAUS: I try to apply to be a bouncer at a bar here in town. Instead of hiring me, who has the years of service, the experience in security, they hired a kid that was fresh out of high school. No offense to the kid, but he was a twig and he had a broken wrist. I was like, really? He has a cast on his hand.
TONER: Claus thinks employers feel disabled veterans are not as capable or maybe are unstable. Greg Williams says those suspicions have some basis in fact. Williams works for the state of Wisconsin trying to get companies to hire vets.
GREG WILLIAMS: I've been asked, what about a veteran with post-traumatic stress? Well, what about them? People have post-traumatic stress from being in a car wreck or going through a hurricane or a tornado. But the bottom line still is that they can function on a job.
TONER: Hannah Rudstam is a researcher at the Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell University. She says her nationwide survey of HR professionals showed that more than half thought hiring disabled vets would be good for business, though managers also felt accommodating employees with PTSD, for example, would take extra effort and were concerned they could pose a threat. But Rudstam says research suggests people with PTSD are not more likely to be violent in the workplace.
HANNAH RUDSTAM: When you have a disability that's highly stigmatized, that has a lot of misperception, it's important that a veteran make a decision about disclosure that's right for them, fully understanding what their rights are.
TONER: Of course, under federal law, employers can't even ask about disabilities in a job interview and applicants do not have to disclose them. Justin Claus, the Army vet in Racine, says he probably won't bring his DD214 along to future job interviews. And if he still can't find work, he as a plan B, he wants to reenlist and get the steady paycheck the military provides. But there's a catch. He must be off all medication for a year. That means he'll have to deal with the pain of his physical injuries and his PTSD without the drugs that help him.
Claus is frustrated he's still unemployed and says, if the military lets him back in, it'll be worth it. He took his last pill a month ago.
For NPR News, I'm Erin Toner in Milwaukee.
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