Assistance Programs Help Veterans Shift From War Zone to Workplace
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, three out of five veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Research has also shown that for every soldier killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, as many as 16 are wounded or disabled. These conditions include amputations and severe brain injuries. In addition, more than 20 percent of citizen soldiers have been deployed more than once since 2001, meaning they have made the transition from war zone to workplace repeatedly.
Unless employers address these issues, they may find the reintegration process overwhelming. The Disability Management Employer Coalition, along with three national disability insurers, are hoping to equip employers with the tools to overcome these challenges that service members often face after deployment. The Workplace Warriors Think Tank -- a partnership of the DMEC, The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., MetLife, and Unum -- has taken up the cause of educating employers about the reintegration of military personnel into the business world. Using best practices in human resources and disability management, officials said companies can better meet the needs of returning veterans.
"The U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has created long-term medical and disability issues for returning veterans," said Marcia Carruthers, chief executive officer of the DMEC and cochairwoman of the think tank. "To retain these valuable employees and benefit from their knowledge, abilities and experience, a comprehensive response is needed by employers."
EAP and mentoring. According to the think tank, many companies with disability management, absence management, and return-to-work policies and procedures pride themselves on their innovative programs to assist employees who experience disabilities as a result of occupational or nonoccupational illnesses and injuries. This culture of accommodation, the group said, needs to be extended to military veterans and returning civilians, especially those who are coping with a physical or behavioral health disability, as well as to all who are readjusting to civilian life.
"One effective way that employers can assist veterans is employing an employee assistance program to tackle the major health, work and family challenges resulting from a lengthy overseas assignment in a combat zone," said Carol Harnett, vice president and national disability and life practice leader for The Hartford and cochairwoman of the Workplace Warrior Think Tank.
According to the think tank, another effective tool to support the successful reintegration of civilian soldiers is a mentoring program that links them with veterans within the workforce. The commonality of military experience may forge bonds among colleagues, experts said.
"Virtually any employer can provide mentoring by other veterans, at any level and for very little cost," said Andrew R. Gilbert, a think tank participant and military veteran who founded a forum at his employer Booz Allen Hamilton.
Reintegration strategies. Providing support, resources, and information through clear communication to employees as they prepare for deployment and return home is simply a matter of good human resources practices. According to the Workplace Warrior Think Tank, employers should:
- Maintain communication during absences. Communication is important from supervisors to employees, as well as to the family. Help employees keep up with current company news by passing along newsletters and other communication. In addition, occasionally send deployed soldiers cards and e-mails.
- Celebrate an employee's return to work. Whether returning from deployment or disability, welcome returning employees with a banner, a reception or luncheon, or other recognition.
- Provide employees with adequate information. Equip employees with information about benefits, whether they have disabilities or are being deployed or reintegrated.
- Allow time to reintegrate after an extended absence. Don't expect employees to be 100 percent the day they return.
- Be sensitive about asking about disability or deployment. Provide education on how and when to ask questions, knowing that some returning employees may be reluctant to share details about their deployment or may only do so with certain individuals at certain times.
- Consider accommodations to assist the person's return to productivity. Employer assistance for these accommodations may be obtained through the Veterans Administration.
- Recap changes that took place while employees were gone.
- Provide training to returning employees. Enroll returning employees in new employee training to reorient them to the workplace.
- Be patient with the return. Understand that coming back too quickly can be as bad at times as not returning soon enough. While companies often emphasize early return to work, for some employees coming back too quickly poses a problem.
- Obtain commitment from senior management. This is necessary to ensure that the services are given appropriate financial support and a cultural presence.
- Arrange to have an EAP counselor talk with any returning employees. Use this time to discuss coping mechanisms, family and financial issues.
Read more at the WORKERSCOMP ForumTM homepage.
October 1, 2009
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