Expert Commentary

Workplace Warriors: Targeting Education To Shoot Down Myths

The prevalence of disability in the veteran population—about 25 percent for physical disabilities and nearly 20 percent for behavioral health conditions such as major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—is impressive and clearly presents the opportunity for strategic corporate education and preparedness to address the needs of this population.


Disability and Disability Insurance
April 2013

The role of education is essential to removing the misperception of increased risk, erasing any lingering stigma, and ensuring compliance with accommodation needs, as well as highlighting the real competencies that these citizen soldiers bring to the corporate world. Yet, few companies are fully prepared or know how to initiate the process, despite good intensions.

Understanding the Problem

Research has demonstrated that someone with a diagnosis of PTSD is not a likely candidate for violence, and the concern is overamplified. In general, people do not pose a direct threat to themselves or others solely by virtue of having been diagnosed with PTSD. Employees who effectively manage their symptoms through medication or psychotherapy are very unlikely to pose a threat to themselves or others. Employers can also help reduce the overall stress in the work environment or mitigate known vulnerabilities to stress by providing a job accommodation.

Even though research has found that the reported military PTSD rate decreased over the past few years, a white paper released by the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), Workplace Warrior Revisited: Challenges, Opportunities, and Lessons Learned from Deployment and Reintegration of Citizen Soldiers, found that the stigma of PTSD (and related disorders) still surrounds job-hunting veterans. Employers are unnecessarily "scared" of vets and the potential implications of a PTSD diagnosis. In addition, because of the recent recession, many employers have been facing challenges that affect profitability and productivity. Therefore, with the lack of profits and potential drain on resources, most employers are slow to fill vacancies. But the uptick in the economy, with a corresponding lack of skilled workers, may unlock some of these hesitations and provide more opportunities for all veterans.

Veterans as Valued Employees

The presence of veterans in the workplace is a constantly evolving and expanding subset of the employee population. With the advent of increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion, more companies are recognizing the value and role of employees who have prior military service. Certainly, the aerospace, financial, and aviation industries are leaders in recognizing the competences that vets bring to the table. Programs like 100,000 Jobs Mission, Helmets to Hardhats, and Wal-Mart's Careers with a Mission have helped boost employment.

As pointed out in the DMEC paper, the veteran is a valuable employee based on the knowledge, skills, abilities, and expertise from military deployment and prior work experience. While some areas will be skill related (for example, additional training in information technology), other personal and professional assets are also brought to the table. These skill sets have been capitalized by a number of blue collar trades (plumbing, construction, pipe fitting), as well as law enforcement, security, and self-employment. The International Franchise Association has identified a natural correspondence between military service and franchising, where veterans can use their procedural, systems, leadership, and operational skills.

The Veteran as a Valuable Employee: Personal
and Professional Assets
  • Leadership—the ability to lead as well as follow
  • Maturity in judgment, actions, and accountability
  • Transferable skills, including new areas of expertise, and enhanced knowledge
  • Resilience to cope with and overcome challenges
  • Motivation, loyalty, and punctuality
  • Solution-orientation approaches to problems
  • Team attitude and a willingness to help
  • Willingness to take initiative to do what needs to be done
  • Expanded network of contacts, including potential business relationships

Scope and Dynamics at Play

For generations, veterans have quietly been hard at work in corporate America after return to civilian life. Many of those who served in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War are productive and still actively at work. Add to that the new vets coming fresh out of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the number swells by over 2.4 million. But the real dynamic and effect come when you calculate the caregivers, family, friends, coworkers, and children of these veterans; the scope becomes very large.

Other individuals in the workplace have had similar exposure to life-altering events such as fires, natural disasters, auto accidents, serious illness or injuries, or trauma. Their personal experiences and potential for a PTSD diagnosis may also require accommodations, treatment, and understanding by supervisors and employers for them to be fully productive.

As we dig deeper, the scope and need for a better approach to insuring the wellness of all employees should clearly be a goal of any organization and not purely a response to the veteran population.

Education and Resources

Employee education is crucial to improve the understanding of workplace warriors' needs, reduce stigma and myths, and assist disabled veterans. Some ways this can be accomplished include:

  • Training for human resource professionals, managers, union representatives, and supervisors
  • Utilizing employee assistance programs (EAPs): Veterans with major depression, generalized anxiety, and PTSD can be referred to the EAP to receive support, treatment, and/or access to additional behavioral health resources. However, even mental health professionals may require additional education themselves to develop "cultural competence" to work with veterans. Their understanding of the realities of war, weapons, and military culture assist with reintegration and cultural conflicts.
  • Providing veteran resource information on federal, state, local, and nonprofit organizations
  • Organizing and supporting internal veteran groups, such as diversity and employee resource groups
  • Walking the walk—outreach to veterans when announcing new positions and at job fairs
  • Setting up "lunch and learn" sessions produced by your EAP or healthcare provider

Crossover to Disability and Absence Management

The Workplace Warrior Think Tank recognized that the most effective way to ensure a successful assimilation and reintegration into the workplace is through the use of best practices in human resources and risk and disability management, including:

  • Welcoming returning employees with banners, a reception, a luncheon, or other recognition to let them know they were missed and that the company and their colleagues are glad to have them back
  • Ensuring that returning service men and women receive pay raises, 401(k) contributions, and/or advancements and promotions they are due in order to be "made whole." Employees should be informed about changes in management, policies, business practices, direct supervision, reporting relationship, and/or other significant developments in the work environment that occurred while they were deployed.
  • Investigating the need for accommodations for employees who return with a disability, whether physical or behavioral. A variety of types of accommodation assistance is available at no cost through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or Job Accommodation Network.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the company's EAP (including the cultural competence of counselors and other EAP professionals) to deal with service men and women who exhibit symptoms of major depression, generalized anxiety, or PTSD
  • Establishing a mentoring program to link returning employees with military veterans in the workforce as part of a supportive internal network, as well as outreach for potential new hires
  • Creating a culture of diversity and inclusion that supports veterans at all levels of the organization

Call to Action

The largest deployment of civilian soldiers since World War II demands a proactive response on the part of all organizations, including expanded education to all employees and well-established policies and procedures. Assistance for reservists and National Guard members returning to their jobs, as well as existing veterans, can help make these transitions more successful and ensure their well-being. In addition, employers need to consider outreach to veterans leaving military service, through recruitment, job fairs, and other hiring initiatives, to provide opportunities for those who served their country. Hiring veterans brings into the workforce individuals who possess unique skills, training, qualities, and experiences and affirms a corporate culture that values best practices in diversity. By targeting education and best practices, risk and disability professionals can assist in erasing any misperceptions, decrease risk, and increase employee productivity.

References:

Workplace Warriors Revisited: Challenges, Opportunities, and Lessons Learned from Deployment and Reintegration of Citizen Soldiers: Highlighting Best Practices in Human Resources and Disability Management (October 2012), www.dmec.org.

"Frequently Asked Questions About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) & Employment," America's Heroes at Work, www.americasheroesatwork.gov/forEmployers/factsheets/FAQPTSD/.

"A Fresh Start: The International Franchise Association Gives Returning Vets a Boost in Business," Associations Now (December 2012), 12.

Wal-Mart—Careers with a Mission, http://walmartcareerswithamission.com/.


Marcia Carruthers, MBA, ARM, CPDM, is cofounder and chairman of the Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC), a San Diego–based nonprofit trade association providing educational resources to employers in the area of disability, absence, health, and productivity. For information, visit www.dmec.org or e-mail Marcia at


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

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