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Ways to aid veterans' return to workplace


While employees who show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder should be referred to their company's employee assistance programs, there are steps employers can take on their own to make life easier for troubled workers, experts say.

Observers say PTSD symptoms can include anger, depression, nightmares, extreme reactions to noise, oversensitivity to criticism, difficulty concentrating, drug and alcohol abuse, and marital problems.

To help returning soldiers who have difficulty concentrating, employers can reduce the work environment's distractions, said Mary Vasquez, president and chief executive officer of Gurnee, Ill.-based VMC Behavioral Healthcare Services, an employee assistance program provider. "They can provide enclosures or private space for the person to work in," she said.

Employers also can divide larger assignments into smaller units, she said.

If often helps also to give employees their assignments in writing, including e-mail, as well as orally because a PTSD sufferer "may easily forget or be confused by the directions that are given them," said Ms. Vasquez.

"Provide day-to-day guidance and feedback," she said. "Be very clear in the expectations and the consequences of not meeting the expectations that have been placed on that person."

Returning workers who "demonstrate overreactions to the smallest stimuli" may need longer or more frequent work breaks, she said.

If a worker does have a panic attack, allow him or her to take a break "and go to a place where they feel comfortable," or allow the worker to contact a support person, said Ms. Vasquez.

In interacting with co-workers, "the supervisor can encourage the worker to walk away from frustrating situations and confrontations," she said, "and allow the employee to work from home part of the time."

Because PTSD often involves sleep disruption, "it would help if the employer can allow the employee to work on a consistent schedule, have flexible starting times and perhaps provide a place for the employee to sleep during breaks," Ms. Vasquez said.

Rich Paul, vp of health and performance solutions at Norfolk, Va.-based ValueOptions Inc., an EAP provider, also suggested employers "set up a buddy system of sorts, where (reservists) can have a buddy who's had similar experiences at one point or another in their lives."