There are men and women in this country who have made great sacrifices for you and me. We see them in the news programs on television and we see their faces looking down on us from highway billboards. We read of their bravery in the face of an enemy that has been indoctrinated from early childhood to have nothing but homicidal hatred for Americans and for the American way of life. We shed a tear at the flag-draped coffins and puff up with pride at these soldiers and seamen, airmen and marines—and rightly so—but is that all we owe them; the hearty handshake, pat on the back and letting them know they did well?
We do owe these Americans more, much more. We owe them a chance to make the transition from warrior to worker, to go from the chaos of war to the stability of Main Street. The problem is that many of our veterans are not getting that chance. According to a study by the Rand Corporation, there are approximately 300,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan that have come home with mental health problems, so-called invisible wounds, and about the same number suffered head injuries. Problems associated with these issues can include depression, flashbacks, irritability, headaches and short-term memory loss. They come home, reenter civilian life while dealing with these new problems and can’t find work because employers are hesitant to hire them.
The Truth about the Wounded Warrior
Many of today’s wounded warriors would likely have died during previous wars. That they have survived is a tribute to the new equipment they carry, the training they receive and the excellent trauma care they get in the theater and later at military hospitals. On a medical level, we know more today about Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than ever before, but in the civilian world, myths and misconceptions still exist. Some of the things that these Vets, on the whole, are not include:
- Weak in mind and/or character
- Violent and unpredictable
- Unable to tolerate the stress of holding a job
- Second-rate workers
- Doomed to a life of problems
- Unresponsive to therapy and self-help strategies
- Impossible to help
The truth is that these are people who have come through a terrible experience, so terrible that it cannot help but leave a mark on anyone it touches, and because of that they have problems that require treatment and, occasionally, some accommodation. This is as true for our wounded vets as it is for a burn victim who survives a house fire, or the paralyzed survivor of a car wreck; and the same rules and standards of common decency apply to all of them.
The Nature of TBI and PTSD
A Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a blow or jolt to the head or a penetrating head injury that disrupts the function of the brain. TBIs can range from very mild, such as a brief change in mental status or consciousness to severe, such as an extended period of unconsciousness or amnesia. A TBI can result in short or long-term problems, although most people with TBI are able to function independently. TBI symptoms can include poor concentration, irritability, fatigue, depression, memory problems, headaches, anxiety, trouble thinking, dizziness, blurry/double vision and sensitivity to bright light. The most rapid recovery occurs in the first six months after the injury. In mild cases, patients will often be back to normal within three months. When several symptoms persist beyond that point, then a diagnosis of post-concussion syndrome can be considered.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), on the other hand, is really an anxiety disorder that can develop in response to an extremely traumatic event such as combat, a violent personal assault such as a rape or a robbery, terrorist attacks, natural or man-made disasters, or a serious accident. What’s more, the trauma can be either directly experienced by the patient or witnessed in another person, it usually involves actual or threatened death, serious injury or a threat to one's physical integrity; and the patient's response is one of intense fear or helplessness. Symptoms may appear months or even years after the event and they can vary in intensity. Patients can experience flashbacks, nightmares and intrusive recollections, and stress reactions can arise from exposure to events and situations that remind them of the traumatic event. Other symptoms include:
- Avoidance of triggering cues.
- Feeling detached from others.
- Emotional numbing.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Problems concentrating.
- Being hyper-alert to danger.
- Feeling on edge.
For many, PTSD symptoms will resolve completely while, for others, symptoms may persist for many years.
How You Can Help
As an employer, there are many ways that you can help our wounded vets get back into civilian life, but they begin with becoming educated on the issues these people face and understanding that these issues do nothing to lower their value as employees.
Probably the best way to learn about the issues facing vets with TBI and PTSD is to visit a Department of Labor website that went up recently called America’s Heroes at Work. Here you will find information these conditions, the importance of work to those who suffer from these conditions and resources to give you access to this pool of exceptional employees.
Explore Disabled Veteran Resources
In addition to the government, private organizations, such as The Wounded Warrior Project, have appeared to help wounded vets make the transition to civilian life. These organizations provide a great deal of help to vets coping with their new lives back home and they deserve your support for their efforts. In fact, one of the best ways to help them succeed in their mission would be to post your job openings on these sites. Visit the Wounded Warrior Project’s Warrior to Work Program for a comprehensive list of organizations that are looking for your help wanted ad.
Adopt “Promising Practices” in the Workplace
A good employee deserves some accommodation so they can do their job to the best of their abilities. These are some of the “promising practices” that are known to help:
TBI-related Promising Practices. These accommodations may not be needed for long, if at all, depending on the severity of the employee’s condition and the speed at which they are healing.
- Schedule-reminders (telephone, pagers, alarm clocks)
- Scheduled rest breaks to prevent stimulus overload and fatigue
- Work task checklists and clipboards
- Tape recorders as memory aids
- Stop watches for time management
- Job coaches who make frequent, scheduled site visits
- Supportive phone calls after work
- Role playing exercises related to the job
- Periodic evaluation forms completed by supervisors and/or job coaches
- Job-site accommodations including adaptive technology
- Job sharing with another employee
- Mentoring by a co-worker or retired worker
- Setting reasonable expectations for task completion
- Limiting multi-tasking
- Scheduling more difficult or challenging tasks at the beginning of the work shift to account for fatigue
- Recognizing accomplishments through positive reinforcement
PTSD-related Promising Practices. These practices and accommodations may not all be needed, but they have proven effective in making the workplace a better environment for PTSD sufferers.
- Flexible work schedules and/or job sharing with another employee.
- Schedule-reminders (telephone, pagers, alarm clocks).
- Scheduled rest breaks to prevent stimulus overload and fatigue.
- Work task checklists, clipboards and tape recorders as memory aids.
- Stop watches or timers for time management.
- Job coaches, who make frequent, scheduled site visits.
- White noise or environmental sound machines to help eliminate distractions.
- Mentoring by a co-worker or retired worker.
- Providing encouragement, moral support, and a listening ear.
- Understanding that PTSD and symptoms of any psychological condition may ebb and flow, and that the person may experience good days and more challenging days.
- Support for pursuing treatment and assistance, even during work hours. Employers should know that treatment is a process that can be effective in managing psychological symptoms and conditions. Supporting employees in their need to regularly follow up or comply with treatment recommendations is an important part of their recovery.
The Bottom Line: Doing Well by Doing Good
Look, it’s not difficult: Beyond the fact that it is the right thing to do, hiring a disabled vet is good for you and good for your business and, according to HireVetsFirst, here’s why:
- Accelerated learning curve.
Veterans have the proven ability to learn new skills and concepts. In addition, they can enter your workforce with identifiable and transferable skills, proven in real-world situations. This background can enhance your organization's productivity.
The military trains people to lead by example as well as through direction, delegation, motivation, and inspiration. Veterans understand the practical ways to manage behaviors for results, even in the most trying circumstances. They also know the dynamics of leadership as part of both hierarchical and peer structures.
Veterans understand how genuine teamwork grows out of a responsibility to one's colleagues. Military duties involve a blend of individual and group productivity. They also necessitate a perception of how groups of all sizes relate to each other and an overarching objective.
- Diversity and inclusion in action.
Veterans have learned to work side by side with individuals regardless of diverse race, gender, geographic origin, ethnic background, religion, and economic status as well as mental, physical, and attitudinal capabilities. They have the sensitivity to cooperate with many different types of individuals.
- Efficient performance under pressure.
Veterans understand the rigors of tight schedules and limited resources. They have developed the capacity to know how to accomplish priorities on time, in spite of tremendous stress. They know the critical importance of staying with a task until it is done right.
- Respect for procedures.
Veterans have gained a unique perspective on the value of accountability. They can grasp their place within an organizational framework, becoming responsible for subordinates' actions to higher supervisory levels. They know how policies and procedures enable an organization to exist.
- Technology and globalization.
Because of their experiences in the service, veterans are usually aware of international and technical trends pertinent to business and industry. They can bring the kind of global outlook and technological savvy that all enterprises of any size need to succeed.
Veterans know what it means to do "an honest day's work." Prospective employers can take advantage of a track record of integrity, often including security clearances. This integrity translates into qualities of sincerity and trustworthiness.
- Conscious of health and safety standards.
Thanks to extensive training, veterans are aware of health and safety protocols both for themselves and the welfare of others. Individually, they represent a drug-free workforce that is cognizant of maintaining personal health and fitness. On a company level, their awareness and conscientiousness translate into protection of employees, property, and materials.
- Triumph over adversity.
In addition to dealing positively with the typical issues of personal maturity, veterans have frequently triumphed over great adversity. They likely have proven their mettle in mission critical situations demanding endurance, stamina, and flexibility. They may have overcome personal disabilities through strength and determination.
These are some great reasons to hire some great people. Now it’s up to you.