By DAN REYNOLDS, senior editor
As a member of the lost generation, those U.S. military personnel who fought for their country in Vietnam and returned to an unwelcoming, even hostile America, Richard Pimentel has a story to tell.
He told it Wednesday afternoon in front of a small but focused group of people who attended his workshop focused on strategies for integrating returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to the workplace at the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference and Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center (RTW2).
Pimentel suffered a traumatic brain injury in 1969 when a mortar rocket struck his bunker as he was serving with the 101st Airborne in Indochina. When he returned to the United States, he was angry. Most of his hearing was gone. Like many other returning Vietnam vets, he was rejected by the rehabilitation community.
Pimentel has made it his life's work to make sure that what happened to him and thousands of other Vietnam veterans doesn't happen to this generation of American military personnel; hence, the motivation for Wednesday's session.
The issues facing returning veterans and the difficulty of assimilating them back into the workforce can't be captured here in a nutshell. But let's start with a few statistics.
Pimentel estimated that there will be 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking to return to the workforce in 2008, another 100,000 veterans doing so in 2009.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, which afflicted 13.5 percent of returning vets in Pimentel's generation, is expected to affect 25 percent of those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. The reason for that is that National Guardsman and reservists are being asked to return to the war theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan again and again, as opposed to Vietnam fighters who, apart from the career soldiers, did one year and then were able to get out.
"This is a very different war," said Pimentel.
In integrating the returning fighter, Pimentel cautions patience above all. He said it took him two years post-Vietnam to get to where he could walk down the street without worrying about which way he was going to need to jump to avoid oncoming bullets. Just imagine the issues that kind of mindset is going to create in the workplace.
Pimentel, who is a senior partner with Milt Wright & Associates Inc. based in Granada Hills, Calif., is getting set to roll out his own six-hour training program designed to help managers to both prepare their workforce and themselves to receive returning vets productively.
In tackling the issue of returning vets, Pimentel is taking on a topic that, judging by the sparse attendance at his presentation on Wednesday, isn't on a lot of people's radar screens yet. But just look at those numbers again and ask yourself if it's not going to be.
Pimentel said to not shy away from the vets. Hire them back and put them in an environment with people who can understand them and can give them a little leeway. He said coming back to a job, a family and a community when he got back from Vietnam is what saved him.
"Work is therapeutic," he said. "These people won't move to normalcy until you put them in a normal environment."
(Read our write-up and commentary
on other Wednesday sessions at the NWCDC.)
November 19, 2008
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