Law Enforcement’s View of Hiring Veterans with PTSD
Introduction: An estimated 1-2 out of every 10 soldiers returning from combat
in Iraq will be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (National
Center for PTSD, 2008). Many of these soldiers are self-conscious about the diagnosis.
In a recent article about perceived barriers to care, half of Iraq/Afghanistan
combat veterans with suspected mental disorders believed that receiving
treatment would harm their careers. Another 65% stated that they would be
considered weak for seeking help and many were afraid that their peers would
lose confidence in their abilities (Hoge et al., 2004). This is a particular
problem for veterans who may seek employment after military service, since few
employers provide up-front information regarding pre-existing mental
conditions. Anonymous questions about PTSD treatment and future employment
dominate online discussion forums, and many erroneously
assume and advise that outside agencies embrace a “don’t ask, don’t tell”
policy. These findings give reason to believe that veterans may not seek
treatment for PTSD, fearing automatic disqualification from employment based on
The purpose of this paper is to better understand the hiring policies of
employers in fields of law enforcement, specifically with regard to
pre-existing mental conditions such as PTSD.
Military service often provides individuals with a set of skills uniquely
suited for employment in law enforcement settings. Consequently, many veterans
seek employment as police officers and firefighters. Since it is common for law
enforcement human resources departments to administer medical exams as part of
the hiring process, efforts were made to contact these departments or the
clinicians directly. A minimum of 3 attempts at email or phone contact were
made for each agency. Of the 12 law enforcement agencies contacted, 8
The following table describes each employer’s hiring policy in some detail. In
each case, a psychological
evaluation of the applicant was required; however, a separate evaluation for
PTSD was not typically administered. The vast majority stated that a history of
PTSD would not result in automatic disqualification. If the diagnosis was revealed
during the medical or psychological exam, most agencies indicated that past
medical records or military discharge forms would then be obtained. While PTSD
was not viewed as cause for automatic disqualification, in the event that PTSD
was not previously diagnosed but inconsistencies occurred in the applicant’s employer
administered psychological evaluation, a thorough investigation of the
individual’s medical record might ensue.
Although screening tools, such as the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS),
exist to evaluate levels of PTSD severity, no law enforcement agencies reported
using one. Few employers provided information as to whether PTSD-specific
evaluations were given, and in no instance were thresholds for disqualification
Additionally, two agencies of those who responded or provide freely accessible
information online said they had written policies regarding mental health
evaluations; only the California Department of Forestry makes its written policies
publicly available. In most cases, the psychological assessment component of
the hiring procedure is contracted out, and specific evaluation criteria were
unknown by the agencies themselves.
It is particularly important for individuals with undiagnosed or untreated PTSD
to receive treatment before seeking employment as law enforcement officers.
Studies have shown that roughly 1/3 of paramedics (Alexander & Klein, 2001;
Regehr, Goldberg, Glancy & Knott, 2002) and a quarter of firefighters
(Bryant & Harvey, 1996; Regehr & Bober, 2005) experience PTSD symptoms
at any given time as a result of working in constantly stressful occupations.
It is also clear from the scientific literature that there is a direct
correlation between the number of traumatic events that a person experiences
and the development of PTSD. Researchers have estimated that 7-19% of all
police officers develop PTSD symptoms after experiencing a traumatic event
(LeBlanc, Regehr, Jelley, & Barath, 2007). Therefore, it is of utmost
importance that a recruit be as physically and mentally healthy as possible.
Due to the stressful nature of law enforcement occupations, treatment for PTSD
was viewed favorably by all responding agencies.. A representative of the Los
Angeles Police Department indicated that treatment for the disorder was highly
regarded. Yet, it was also mentioned that if PTSD is a current condition that
interferes with the applicant’s ability to complete necessary job duties, the
application would be denied. Similarly, the California Department of Forestry’s
policy stated that any suddenly incapacitating conditions, such as asthma or
seizure disorders, would result in disqualification. Although not an
automatically disqualifying condition, severe PTSD is cause for concern. Most
agencies suggested that medication, including psychotropic medication, was
evaluated to ensure that safe and efficient job performance would not be
• PTSD is not generally an automatic disqualification for employment with law enforcement agencies.
• Several agencies, including the Seattle Police Department and California Department of Forestry, stated that they had hired individuals with histories of PTSD, although most agencies alluded that they had as well.
• Most agencies did not have specific protocols for evaluating PTSD, nor did
they have policies regarding the prohibition of prescribed medications.
• Alleviation of PTSD symptoms through treatment was highly regarded and
medical records were typically obtained to confirm adherence to treatment protocols.
• All agencies indicated that individual circumstances and PTSD diagnoses were
evaluated on a case-bycase basis to determine if symptoms interfered with job
• The underlying message is that if an applicant is not experiencing debilitating PTSD symptoms, they will be considered as equally as any applicant without a history of PTSD.
Kara Ballenger-Browning, M.P.H.
Naval Center for Combat & Operational Stress Control
34960 Bob Wilson Drive
San Diego, CA 92134-6400
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Regehr, C., Goldberg, G., Glancy G. & Knott, T. (2002). Post-traumatic
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