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Life After Military: Employment Challenges for Veterans with Disabilities

For more information on employment after military, consult the Military to Civilian Employment: A Career Practitioner’s Guide. It is an essential resource for understanding the unique challenges and opportunities in supporting veterans to successfully transition to civilian employment.

November 11, 2016 (Remembrance Day) will mark the 98th anniversary of the end of World War I.  Since then, in addition to World War II, Canada has been involved in a number of military missions including the Korean, Gulf, Kosovo and Afghan wars as well as United Nations peacekeeping roles.

Many returning veterans with disabilities experience difficulty in transitioning from military to civilian life, resulting in barriers to employment.  In an effort to address this issue, Veterans Affairs Canada conducted a Survey on Transition to Civilian Life that measured health, disability and determinants of health of Regular Force personnel who were released from service.  These veterans were grouped according to regular Canadian Forces (CF) veterans and recipients of services provided by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC); those on Disability Pension (DP); as well as the New Veterans Charter (NVC) and Department of National Defence/Canadian Force (DND/CF) program recipients.

Two thirds (62%) of regular CF veterans who served between 1998 and 2007 adjusted easily to civilian life while a quarter (25%) found the adjustment to be more difficult.  The health, disability and determinants of health status for both groups during this time period was significantly worse than the Canadian general population

The majority of those with poor health, disability and determinants of health received benefits from VAC.  The majority of veterans diagnosed with chronic health conditions and disability were in military service.  The states of health for VAC clients tended to be complex, with the vast majority of VAC program recipients (91-92%) being diagnosed with at least one physical condition and approximately half (40-60%) of them with at least one mental health condition.  Two-thirds of this group had four to six physical and mental health conditions, and a fifth of them had a number of co-morbid conditions.  The health related (particularly physical) quality of life of VAC clients was low.

Although the majority of veterans (89%) found jobs upon their return, and the 8% veteran unemployment rate was on par with that of the civilian population, New Veterans Charter (NVC) clients worked for shorter duration and had a higher rate of unemployment than Disability Pension (DP) clients and non-clients.  Both NVC and DP clients had an elevated level of perceived stress.  Although most participants agreed that their military experience, education and training were influential, less than half believed that they achieved higher status because of their prestige, skills and knowledge, authority, income and importance acquired through military service.  Furthermore, NVC clients did not consider their military knowledge, skills and abilities to be transferable to the civilian world of work and were least satisfied with their current occupation.  This group also rated considerably lower on perceived community belonging and mastery.

This is a significant setback in light of Yves Tremblay’s observation in his article, Back from War, that “the availability of employment is a key factor in the successful reintegration of the veteran into society and this, unfortunately, depends on cyclical economics.”

The most predominant type of disability experienced by soldiers in combat is operational stress injury, which occurs in response to exposure to extreme situations incurred while carrying out military or police duties which are rarely experienced by civilians.  Operational stress injury is characterized by one or more chronic mental health conditions; most notably, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse disorder, anxiety disorder and mood disorder.  It is triggered by various stressors depending on the individual’s sensitivity to situations such as:

• engaging in combat and/or having to kill someone;
• handling injured bodies or human remains;
• a near death experience;
• witnessing atrocities or someone being killed;
• being assaulted or held hostage; and natural disasters.

Maureen Salamon, in her article, After the Battle: 7 Health Problems Facing Veterans, identifies the following health conditions endemic to returning veterans:

• musculoskeletal injuries and chronic pain (particularly in the back, neck, knees and shoulder);
• mental health issues (violent behaviour, depression, alcohol abuse as well as the development of physical illnesses associated with post traumatic stress disorder including sleep apnea and dementia);
• chemical exposure to nerve agents such as sarin, which can cause long term heart damage such as an enlarged left ventricle, heart rhythm abnormalities or reduced pumping strength;
• infectious diseases for which there are no vaccinations such as brucellosis, campylobacter jejuni, Coxiella burnetii and Leishmaniasis;
• noise and vibration exposure (hearing loss or impairment and chronic tinnitus caused by harmful noise from gunfire, heavy weapons, noisy engine rooms and aircraft; irreversible low back pain or numbness and pain in the hands or fingers from machine vibrations);
• traumatic brain injury (identified as the signature wound of the Iraq and Afghan wars, caused by a blow or jolt to the head, exposure to blasts and other combat related activities which adversely affects brain function causing a shortened attention span, language disabilities and inability to process information); as well as
• urologic injuries (damage to the bladder, ureters, kidneys and genitalia from penetrating injuries to the groin area).

For returning veterans with disabilities who are trying to re-enter the workforce, the Veterans Affairs Canada’s Rehabilitation Program is an initiative of the New Veterans Charter, which aims to help modern day veterans transition into civilian life.  Its goal is to provide access to medical, psycho-social, and vocational rehabilitation services in order to reduce or remove barriers and increase veterans’ level of functioning in the home, community and workplace.  The Canadian Veterans Vocational Rehabilitation Services, in turn, is a joint venture comprised of two vocational rehabilitation providers; namely, WCG (Where Careers Grow) International HR Solutions and March of Dimes Canada. Vocational services provided by CVVRS include assessment, planning and development of an action plan.

Veterans Affairs Canada also has a Transition to Civilian Life program that offers modern day veterans career transition services, federal government jobs for Armed Forces veterans as well as rehabilitation services and vocational assistance.  Career transition services offer reimbursement for retraining costs and career exploration resources such as assessments, aptitude testing, resume writing, job search assistance as well as professional recruitment.  Vocational rehabilitation focuses on identifying transferable skills and the jobs that would most closely match these skills, along with job finding services such as resume writing and interview skills.

Given the evolving nature and prolonged length of modern day wars, there will be an increasing demand for specialized vocational assessment, employment counselling and job development services geared to meeting the needs of returning veterans with disabilities.  In designing services for these clients, equal consideration has to be given to the impact of military experiences on the psychological and psycho-social functioning of these returning veterans, as well as the impact it can have on career fulfilment and adaptation to a civilian work environment.


http://www.ementalhealth.ca/Toronto/Operational-Stress-Injury-OSI/index.php?m=article&ID=13254

http://reviewcanada.ca/magazine/2012/01/back-from-war/

http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/about-us/research-directorate/publications/reports/survey-trans-exec

http://www.livescience.com/8916-battle-7-health-problems-facing-veterans.html

http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/services/transition

Profile photo of Denise Feltham
Denise Feltham
Designer of D.I.C.E. (Disability Impact on Career/Employment). Owner/Operator of D.I.C.E. Assessment & Employment Counselling Services Bachelor of Social Work Degree (Ryerson University). Career & Work Counsellor Diploma (George Brown College) Life Skills Coach Certification (Levels I & II) - YWCA

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