Post-traumatic stress disorder challenges veterans and employers to team across the information divide. Many veterans don’t know not to reveal medical histories when job hunting but to ask for an accommodation after being offered a job. Similarly, many employers ask about PTSD when they wouldn’t ask a civilian about a medical condition or would provide an accommodation to a civilian, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Psychiatrist Harry Croft in San Antonio, Tex., a retired Army major, has evaluated more than 7,000 veterans with PTSD. He explains that cases of the disorder extend from very mild to extremely severe.
“Symptoms include flashbacks and triggers,” he points out, “the latter sparking rapid response when startled; avoidance (trying not to think about the war or traumatic incident and isolating oneself); and arousal (inability to sleep well, anger, irritability, agitation, hypervigilance).” He maintains that these psychological, emotional and behavioral symptoms stem from a biological base.
Commander and psychiatrist Robert McLay, a Navy reservist, writes “that many people survive trauma, ... (and) are not doomed to a life in hospitals and clinics.” His engaging non-technical book, “At War with PTSD: Battling Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Virtual Reality,” discusses the treatment of PTSD at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Calif. (Johns Hopkins, $24.95)
The law protects veterans and employers. Lawrence Lee, partner in the Denver, Colo., office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, states that “if a traumatized veteran’s brain functions are affected, the (person) can request an accommodation ... to perform the essential functions of the job. An employer can request an employee who’s disclosed that he or she has PTSD to submit to a medical examination, provided the employer’s request is both consistent with business necessity and is job-related.”
Brian Clauss, practicing attorney and director, John Marshall Law School Veterans Legal Support Center in Chicago, Ill., would concur, adding that “a question about physical and mental qualifications for a job with the police or other emergency services is legitimate at some point in the process.”
Survivor of four deployments, Bruce Champion of Middlebury, Ind., installs electronics for an RV manufacturer. Almost every employer asks if he has PTSD when it’s clear that he’s a veteran.
Like Champion, Mike De Salvo, who was hit by an IED, has a strong work ethic. He’s an independent contractor doing electrical work for Long & Foster Real Estate Inc., in Baltimore, Md. Craig Elliott, a realtor there, stresses the importance of accepting the disorder rather than reacting to the behaviors it causes – “it's just what happens” – or judging a person who has it.
Champion cites employer fear of liability in hiring a veteran with PTSD as the greatest barrier to being hired. PTSD limits De Salvo’s occupational options.
“I can’t be a cop, paramedic or firefighter,” this veteran comments, “because of triggers.”
Keeping a job isn’t easy either, as both have learned. A company fired Champion after he volunteered to arrive early and come back after his medical appointments amounting to two hours per week.
Both De Salvo and Champion recognize their triggers.
“Sometimes we need a moment to walk away from scenarios and gather our thoughts,” Champion observes. “When I feel flashbacks coming on, I try to get as far away from people as I can to a quiet spot.”
He adds that it wouldn’t hurt for all VA Hospitals to schedule evening hours.
De Salvo also advocates “grounding – deep breathing, looking at a spot on the ceiling or floor and focusing on telling yourself where you are, as in ‘I’m in Baltimore, not Iraq.’” He pulled aside bosses in two different companies to discuss PTSD so the bosses could educate other employees. It worked.
Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. (© 2012 Passage Media.)