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By Rhonda Smith
Recent reports about a U.S. Army sergeant accused of killing 17 civilians in Afghanistan have sparked concern among employers and raised the issue of returning veterans and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Officials at a consulting service funded by the Department of Labor's Office of Disability Employment Policy told BNA March 22 that news of the tragedy led to an uptick in calls from employers concerned about workplace safety.
Beth Loy, a principal consultant with the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), a free, confidential consulting service based in Morgantown, W.Va., said one of the most difficult challenges for employers involves having to deal with misconceptions and stereotypes about veterans and the possibility that they are affected by PTSD.
“When something happens like what recently happened in Afghanistan …employers tend to get afraid,” Loy said. “But oftentimes PTSD is very easy to accommodate.”
For example, an employee diagnosed with PTSD might need an accommodation as simple as an electronic scheduler, a noise-cancelling headset, or sound barriers placed around a cubicle, she said.
“Many individuals with a diagnosis of PTSD work without any type of accommodation,” Loy said. “If an employer contacts us, we can talk about myths, stereotypes and say, ‘Here is [an accommodation] that was low-cost and easy to implement. It's not as difficult as you might think.' ”
Prevalence of PTSD
PTSD is common among military veterans, according to America's Heroes at Work, a DOL project that addresses employment challenges faced by returning military service members and veterans living with traumatic brain injury and PTSD.
The organization noted on its website that data from the Rand Corp. suggest about one in five service members who return from deployment operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have symptoms of PTSD or depression.
More generally, America's Heroes at Work said studies suggest about 8 percent of the U.S. population, or about 24 million people, will develop PTSD at some point in their lives.
Ilyse Schuman, a shareholder in the Washington, D.C., office of Littler Mendelson, told BNA March 21 that based on the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which expanded the definitions of what is considered a disability, “PTSD is very likely to be covered under the [amended] Americans with Disabilities Act. Therefore, employers should make sure they are … compliant with all of its requirements.”
In the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Veterans and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Guide for Employers, a revised version of which was issued last month, EEOC noted that “it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire a veteran because he has PTSD, because he was previously diagnosed with PTSD, or because the employer assumes he has PTSD.”
Shawn Kee, a partner at Jackson Lewis who works in offices in Denver and Stamford, Conn., told BNA March 21, that employers' obligations with respect to the treatment of military veterans are broader under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act than they are under the ADA.
“Employers need to be careful,” warned Kee, a lieutenant colonel and attorney in the U.S. Army Reserve. “When you have someone returning from military leave with a disability, the first thing employers should realize is they may have obligations that go beyond what they typically had trained for under the ADA. And those obligations can be pretty significant.”
Kee recommended that employers update their training programs related to recruiting and hiring to specifically mention issues related to military members who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Other suggestions for employers when it comes to veterans and PTSD-related issues include:
By Rhonda Smith
Job Accommodation Network resources can be accessed at http://askjan.org/topics/veterans.htm.
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