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When Army veteran Justin Claus, 26, of Racine, Wis., goes to job interviews, he brings along his DD214, a document that serves as proof of military service. Claus is proud of his service and hopes being a veteran will give him an edge.
But the document, which basically sums up a military career, includes the reason it ended. In Claus' case, it reads "disability, permanent." And that little line Claus says, "comes back to get ya."
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.
"I'll tell them what happened and then they're like, 'Oh.' Usually they shortly thereafter end the interview and then I don't hear anything from them," Claus says.
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 Sept. 11 has PTSD. He has no proof he's not getting hired because of his disabilities. But for some jobs, Claus says he just cannot make sense of the rejection.
"I tried 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," Claus says.
Claus thinks employers feel disabled veterans are not as capable, or maybe are unstable. Greg Williams, who works for the state of Wisconsin trying to get companies to hire vets, says those suspicions have some basis in fact.
"I've been asked, 'What about a veteran with post-traumatic stress?' Well, what about him? 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," Williams says.
Hannah Rudstam, a researcher at the Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell University, says her nationwide survey of HR professionals showed that while more than half thought hiring disabled vets would be good for business, managers also felt that accommodating employees with PTSD, for example, would take extra effort. They were also concerned the vets could pose a threat. But Rudstam says research suggests people with PTSD are not more likely to be violent in the workplace.
"When you have a disability that's highly stigmatized, that has a lot of misperceptions, it's important that a veteran make a decision about disclosure that's right for them, fully understanding what their rights are," Rudstam says.
Of course, under federal law, employers can't even ask about disabilities in a job interview, and applicants do not have to disclose them.
Army vet Claus says he probably won't bring his DD214 along to future job interviews. And if he still can't find work, he has a Plan B: He wants to re-enlist 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 deal with the pain of his physical injuries and his PTSD without the drugs that help him. Claus is frustrated that he is still unemployed and says if the military lets him back in, it'll be worth it.
He took his last pill a month ago.