NIOSH focuses on reintegrating reservists, Guardsmen into workplace
But the scenario is not unusual for many of the returning reservists and Guardsmen who must quickly readjust to civilian life. The changing nature of the modern-day armed forces has left returning workers and their employers unprepared for the consequences.
"We were finding you had a group of people understudied, between two worlds: the military and civilian life. Support services available to those on active duty are only transiently available to these individuals," said Dr. Dori Reissman, senior medical director to the director of the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health. "When reservists are deactivated, the VA doesn't provide anything. The military doesn't provide anything. So there's a complete abyss."
Reissman is leading a NIOSH initiative focusing on the challenges of reintegrating returning reservists and Guardsmen into the civilian workforce.
The issue is new territory since commitment to the Guard or Reserves often involves overseas deployment and combat duty where it used to mean a few months of active duty followed by monthly weekends of service or training. Nevertheless, these individuals may suffer from the same conditions as full-time military members.
"Even though it's a minority, 10 to 20 percent of people come back negatively affected," Reissman said. "If these people are coming back to work, what's the accommodation in the workplace?"
As an example of the type of challenge the returning reservists and Guardsmen face, Reissman said someone deployed in a combat zone that looks like an urban area, which is often the case, may return to his own urban area that looks very similar. But the rules of engagement for combat are very different from those in civilian life.
"How do you turn off that other stuff and have the right rules of engagement back?" she said. "It takes time, and it takes somebody actually looking over your shoulder and reminding you 'you're back here now.'"
Another challenge is the fact that reintegrating record numbers of returning Guardsmen and reservists comes at a time when businesses are facing seismic pressures from economic reverberations.
NIOSH is partnering with the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences to address the needs of returning Guardsmen and reservists and their employers.
Among the questions they hope to answer are:
- Does an impairment put the returning worker at risk of reinjury?
- What implications do mental health/emotional conditions, behaviors, or treatments have for the returning worker's well-being on the job?
- What are the implications for the well-being of coworkers? For example, how does anxiety or depression affect a worker's ability to operate heavy mobile machinery safely in a warehouse, mine, or construction site?
- Do we understand the issues?
- Have we perceived the right needs?
- Do available resources address the right needs?
"With the troop withdrawal that President Obama has ordered, you're seeing a reduction in the number of activations, but you're seeing a whole mess of individuals who've been exposed to this and now are in the civilian workforce," Reissman said. "What's happened? Are they unemployed? Underemployed? We owe them something."
Read more at the WorkersComp Forum homepage.
March 10, 2011
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