Veter­ans with PTSD can present chal­lenge at work

As trau­ma­tized sol­diers re­turn to civil­ian life, bosses craft new strate­gies.

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - By Kellyyamanouchi At­lanta Jour­nal-con­sti­tu­tion

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.

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