Veterans with PTSD can present challenge at work
As traumatized soldiers return to civilian life, bosses craft new strategies.
At a recent weekly staff meeting, human resources manager Zetta Ferguson noticed that one of her employees wasn’t sitting at the conference table.
She encouraged the employee, Corey Michael McGee, who was sitting against the wall, to join the rest of the group at the table, but he declined. After the meeting, McGee explained: “I sit against the wall, where I’m safest. Or in my mind I feel I’m safest.”
An Army veteran who was struck by an improvised explosive device and gunfire in Iraq, McGee says post-traumatic stress disorder and some remaining effects of his injuries affect him in the workplace, but “it’s gotten a lot better over the years.”
Many employers have not delved deeply into how they might address PTSD, a relatively new issue, but they could face it more frequently as more veterans return to the workforce.
About 2.4 million members of the military have been deployed in the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands are returning home. The influx is expected to continue until 2016.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates as many as 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans are afflicted by PTSD, which can generate both sympathy and fear.
Employees with the disorder may face problems arising from anxiety or have limited ability to perform certain tasks. Some employers may overreact, and veterans often don’t want employers or coworkers to assume they have a condition resulting from combat.
Ferguson, an HR manager at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center is experiencing the challenges firsthand. It sometimes takes creativity to address McGee’s needs while capitalizing on his strengths and maintaining his privacy, she said. She decided, for example, to invite employees to sit wherever they wanted to avoid singling out McGee.
PTSD can often rise to the level of a disability protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which calls for employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees to do their jobs, said Jennifer Sandberg, a partner at labor law firm Fisher & Phillips. Administrative charges of PTSD discrimination filed under the ADA totaled 593 in fiscal year 2011 and have increased every year since 2006, according to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Some who suffer PTSD have problems with memory, concentration, organization or sleep.
PTSD affects about 7.7 million adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. A variety of accommodations can help, including flexible work schedules, checklists, rest breaks and white noise machines, according to America’s Heroes at Work, a Department of Labor website.