By JARED SHELLY, senior editor/web editor of Risk & Insurance®
LAS VEGAS -- With considerable skills and a typically strong work ethic, veterans of the armed forces are plenty attractive to employers. But those returning from Iraq or Afghanistan have a one-in-three chance of coming home with post-traumatic stress syndrome, which can seriously hinder employment, said Richard Pimentel, senior partner with Milt Wright & Associates in Grenada Hills, Calif.
Speaking at the National Workers' Compensation and Disability Conference® and Expo in Las Vegas, Pimentel -- a Vietnam veteran -- said that while close to 6,000 active troops have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, about the same number have committed suicide after returning home. He equates that to a high rate of post-traumatic stress.
If hiring a returning soldier to drive, employers should be forewarned that they tend to drive fast by airports and underpasses -- a tendency ingrained from years of trying to evade improvised explosive devices. When stopped by police, vets often say they didn't even realize they were driving that way, said Pimentel.
Employers should also recognize that vets with post-traumatic stress may have trouble establishing relationships with co-workers (as well as family) and to be sensitive not to rush the situation. Trust works in the real world, but in combat it's a different story. Soldiers are taught not to trust the civilian approaching them or the car coming toward them, and hesitate to establish intimate relationships with other soldiers because those soldiers may die, he said.
"The problem is, there's no basic un-training" after soldiers come home, he said.
Easing them back to employment can take between 30 to 180 days, said Pimentel, who recommends that employers treat them like brand new employees. Take them through orientation. Tell them what's different about the job and office now compared to before their deployment. Explain why people left and where they are now.
"Divide assignments in smaller goal oriented steps. Give them supervision. Asking 'how are you doing on that?' gets them back on task," he said.
People suffering from post-traumatic stress also typically have certain dates during the year that can trigger their disorder. Victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, for example, may act differently on the anniversary.
Pimentel recalled his own struggle with the disorder when talking about his time in Vietnam. He took on the task of looking after a friend who seemed weaker and not exactly the model of a successful soldier. Pimentel promised his friend's mother that he'd look after him, and he did for months ? even through the extremely dangerous Tet Offensive. But Pimentel was asked to switch to a more elite fighting unit and could no longer look after his friend. Soon after, his friend stood up at the wrong time, and died in the line of fire.
Now every year on the anniversary, Pimentel flies to Portland, Ore., rents a car, and sits in front of the friend's old house for a few hours -- no matter where in the country he lives. That's simply his way of dealing with the tragedy.
"Every person with PTSD is not functional around certain dates," he said. "If you employ PTSD people, you should know their dates" and offer time off or a flexible schedule.
November 10, 2011
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