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America’s Heroes at Work Connects Employers, Vets
 

By Kathy Gurchiek  8/21/2008
 

A government initiative launched Aug. 20, 2008 provides web-based resources for employers and others who employ veterans and first responders with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

America’s Heroes at Work was unveiled in Washington, D.C. among a host of supporters that included U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and representatives from the military, employer and governmental communities.

The new site provides resources such as fact sheets and reference guides, answers to common employer questions, web-based training tools and educational presentations. Its aim, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, (DOL) is to encourage the hiring of veterans and first responders with these “invisible wounds of war.”

TBI and PTSD “are increasingly recognized as key injuries of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom,” according to the DOL. Because of what it calls “the changing combat landscape,” there has been a “sharp increase” in those disorders.

In addition to experiencing headaches, vertigo, balance problems, anxiety and sleep disturbance, persons who suffer from one or both disorders may experience poor concentration, difficulty making decisions and short-term memory loss that can interfere with their function in and outside of the workplace, according to the DOL.

“This is something that really hasn’t been discussed a great deal. It’s good to begin breaking the silence,” said Neil Romano, Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy for the DOL.

Approximately 20 percent of returning veterans will have some degree of TBI and/or PTSD, and 80 percent of that number will overcome the disorder in 12 to 18 months, Romano told SHRM Online. The remaining 20 percent have more severe TBI and/or PTSD and will require more help, he added.

America’s Heroes at Work will include guidance on how to implement workplace accommodations and other services that benefit employees—including nonveterans such as first-responders—affected by TBI and PTSD.

Typical accommodations are “revenue neutral” for TBI and PTSD and can be as simple as putting an employee with TBI or PTSD in a quiet room so they can concentrate better, or using nonfluorescent or nonflickering lighting, Romano said.

In addition, they can be addressed with scheduled rest breaks, memory and time-management aids, alarm clocks, adaptive technology, job sharing, coaching and mentoring programs, according to the web site.

Ret. Army Staff Sgt. Michael Bradley, who was medically retired in November 2007, has TBI and PTSD from his service in Iraq, where he served as a medic from 2001 to 2007.

The 27-year-old Bradley has been working at Halfaker & Associates in Arlington since February 2008. A small business, where the CEO also is a wounded vet, provides national security services to the federal government.

“Don’t be afraid,” is Bradley’s advice to employers. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to just try [hiring veterans with TBI and/or PTSD]. You’re not going to know until you give somebody a chance,” he said during the news conference.

“We don’t want anything big. We don’t want somebody to feel sorry for us,” he told SHRM Online.

His employer dealt with the accommodation issue by asking, in the job offer letter, “is there anything I can do to make [your] coming to work any easier?” For Bradley, who works in classified operations, workplace accommodation means being able to take breaks away from the computer to deal with migraines that are a result of the TBI.

Representatives from the Society for Human Resource Management were on hand to lend support to the initiative’s launch.

“American employers need the Mike Bradleys who are at their door,” bringing traits such as loyalty, leadership and discipline to their workplaces, said Shirley Davis, SHRM’s director of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

America’s Heroes at Work is managed jointly by the DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) in collaboration with other federal agencies.

Those agencies include the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services and Education, the Small Business Administration, the Social Security Administration and the National Institutes of Health.

The site will link with those of similar programs such as ODEP’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN).

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kathy.gurchiek@shrm.org.

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