"There's a saying that businesses that do well do good. In other words, prosperity leads to generosity. Businesses can do well and do good simultaneously by adding the qualified, highly trained men and women who have served in the U.S. military to their staffs and payrolls."
- Lt. Col. (Ret.) Kevin Schmiegel, founder and former executive director of Hiring Our Heroes at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
One day a year is set aside for the nation to pay tribute to the personal sacrifices of its veterans. However, after returning from their service, veterans often face major challenges, particularly when it comes to entering or returning to the civilian workforce. This is particularly true for those who have been injured, and are trying to rebuild their lives as civilians.
Many business organizations, such as General Electric, DuPont, and Walmart, have publicly stated their commitment to support our veterans by means of more proactive employment opportunities. This is great news. Historically, hiring veterans has proven to make good business sense because they provide proven records of commitment, dedication, and skill. However, despite the benefits, some companies feel uncertain about how to address the signature wounds of our recent wars: Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). With more than 300,000 veterans suffering from TBI and more than 400,000 suffering from PTSD, there is an urgent need to educate employers that these injuries can readily be accommodated. Most importantly, employers must be shown the tremendous value of hiring these exceptional individuals.
To learn more about helping our wounded warriors successfully return to work, I received guidance from two strong advocates on this topic, US Air Force Major (fmr) Nisha Money, MD and Madelaine Sayko. Dr. Money served as an Air Force flight surgeon and was the medical commander for the Homeland Security and Initial Disaster Response teams. She currently serves as the medical director of the Global Healing Initiatives Institute. Ms. Sayko is the president and co-founder of Cognitive Compass, an organization formed to advise businesses on approaches and resources to accommodate employees with cognitive disabilities. This includes veterans and civilians ranging from those with mild TBI to aging individuals and those with learning disabilities. The following are eight key insights they shared to help organizations retain and successfully develop wounded warriors:
1. Create an informed organizational culture. Lack of awareness and understanding about TBI and PTSD is the most problematic barrier the injured veteran faces. When peers and managers demonstrate respect for the abilities of an employee who is a veteran, and are available to provide help and support for this person, they can not only address minor problems quickly and efficiently, but they improve the overall productivity, capacity, and capability of the workforce in general.
2. Think of simple solutions. Because TBI and PTSD often manifest themselves as information processing difficulties, solutions can be as simple as providing a quiet space to work or breaking down tasks into short-term goals. Offering such simple solutions is cost-effective and can also be appreciated by many non-veteran employees, including those who have similar cognitive challenges that they may not have revealed to others.
3. Don't make judgments, and beware of assumptions. Encouraging open communication is a key success factor. As a manager, don't assume you know what "the problem" is, especially when it comes to TBI or PTSD. When individuals can speak honestly about problems they are having, without fear of recrimination, they can usually be addressed to everyone's satisfaction. Punitive approaches can exacerbate the difficulties the individual may be experiencing. A useful technique is to decide upon a protocol with the employee ahead of time regarding how to address potential problems.
4. Take a positive approach. Giving positive feedback, which identifies strengths along with areas for improvement, allows the veteran to recognize his or her own unique abilities, and build upon them. A supportive management style can bring dormant skills to the surface. Veterans bring leadership and team-building skills to their work environment and their commitment to a dedicated organization can inspire all employees to higher levels of achievement.
5. Give things time. Occasionally, wounded warriors may exhibit signs of stress, or appear overwhelmed. In these instances, it's important to recognize that these incidents are often transient, passing quickly when the people are given space to collect themselves. Additionally, many cognitive problems improve over time. Their effects are often minimized as accommodation and familiarity take root in the organization.
6. Make use of available resources. Many resources exist to help with the transition from the military to the civilian workforce, and to help address the injuries of war. One example,Cognitive Compass, helps business managers understand and address the challenges they may face with employees who experience cognitive disabilities. Another resource, Joint Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Performance Programs (JCamp2), is a website that lists nationwide services, programs, and treatments for service members, veterans, and their families at reduced or no cost.
7. Embrace technology as part of corporate strategy. There are a number of excellent tools and applications available as apps for mobile phones or PCs. Technology aids are usually free of stigma, and can provide parity to an individual with a disability.
8. Encourage peer-to-peer support structures. Whenever possible, assign veterans a co-worker "buddy" to help the new individual transition more easily into the workplace. If you don't have a veteran employee resource group, start one.
Hiring a wounded warrior can be one of smartest business decisions a company can make. A veteran's commitment to getting the job done and his or her discipline in the workforce is unsurpassed. For employers to leverage those qualities, all it takes is a little knowledge, understanding, and patience.