Skyline’s human resources director. “We let them know we would
be very flexible.”
While some veterans return
home physically injured, a very
small percentage actually require
companies to make “reasonable
accommodations” so the employees
can perform their jobs, says ESGR’s
Palmer. Often, their injuries may require minor or
no accommodation, or they may accept a new position within the firm.
For veterans with a service-connected physical
or mental disability, the U.S. Department of Veterans
Affairs’ Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment
Service (VR&E) provides a wide array of services.
That office may initially arrange for a free work-site
analysis of the returning employee’s needs.
In some cases, the accommodation may involve
equipment and/or technology that enables the veteran to physically perform work. In other situations,
a VR&E case manager may suggest a job restructuring to accommodate the vet’s limited abilities. In yet
other cases, VR&E may pay for training and education, including college, so a veteran can return to
work performing a different job, says Dr. Fred Steier,
VR&E assistant director for rehabilitation services.
“We try to work hand in hand with the veteran
and employer to find good, suitable employment
for the veteran,” says Steier. “In a typical situation,
we [VR&E] may share the cost of that accommodation with the employer.”
Coping with mental matters
According to experts, it is far more likely veterans will return with mental health issues. A 2004
study in the New England Journal of Medicine
reported that nearly 30 percent of Army and Marine
personnel returning from Iraq suffered a mental
health problem, including depression, anxiety and
post-traumatic stress disorder.
If, say, a veteran requires a quieter environment,
the VR&E could team with a company to determine
that possibility, even helping to pay for sound-
■ Beyond the Yellow Ribbon:
■ Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve:
■ U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’
Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service:
reducing materials or equipment. In a serious brain-injury case, says Steier, the VR&E may pay for a job
coach so the veteran can learn new tasks.
Companies fretting about a veteran’s drug and
alcohol problems, anger, concentration and alienation issues and a range of other mental health concerns can contact counselors and outreach workers
at one of the more than 200 Veterans Affairs Vet
Centers scattered across the country. Veterans themselves can contact the Vet Centers or access and
receive referrals from a host of military and government agencies and nonprofits.
Adjusting to the “new normal”
Most returning veterans won’t require professional help, but they may need time to adjust to a
“new normal” in the workplace and elsewhere, says
John Morris, deputy state chaplain of the Minnesota
Army National Guard. Morris was instrumental
in launching that organization’s comprehensive
reintegration program, Beyond the Yellow Ribbon
(BYR), which involves educating the community,
Fellow employees should be sensitized to the veteran’s situation, says Morris. “For instance, don’t ask
if they killed anybody,” he says. He strongly suggests
that companies offer veterans a workplace reorientation, which could include a welcome-home ceremony and opportunities to discuss their experience.
“It’s in the company’s best interest to have a
familiarization phase,” he says. “As a soldier in combat, I’ve left a fairly simple environment, because
that’s all I’m concentrating on. Now I’m returning
home to a complex environment, what with household, family, work and other duties. On top of that,
if I’ve been away any length of time, my job responsibilities have probably changed. If you can help me
adjust successfully, I’ll be a great employee.”
Morris recommends initially breaking down a
more complex job into easily understood tasks. The
BYR program encourages company supervisors to
monitor veterans’ behavior—are they distracted,
struggling with tasks or arguing with fellow employees?—and talk about performance and other issues
in regular checkups.
For many small enterprises, reintegrating veterans into the workplace poses no problems. In fact, far
from being a concern, these employees return with
considerable assets that can assist companies.
“Many veterans have experienced life-and-death situations, and now they want to live,” says
Morris. “They’ve picked up leadership skills and had
tremendous responsibilities during their service.
They are motivated and more focused than ever on
being productive.” C
Harvey Meyer is a St. Louis Park, Minnesota, freelancer who writes for a variety of business, consumer
and general-interest magazines.
THE FEDERAL Uniformed
Services Employment and
Reemployment Rights Act
(USERRA) essentially offers
departing soldiers a trade-off:
In return for defending their
country, they will be assured
jobs at their companies when
they return from service.
Following are key USERRA
provisions highlighted by
Major Robert Palmer, strategic
communications chief for
Employer Support of the
Guard and Reserve (ESGR).
■ Employees do not
accrue vacation or sick days
while serving in the military.
Nor are companies required to
provide health insurance if veterans are gone 31 days or
longer. However, returning
employees must be allowed to
contribute to a pension plan,
within three years, any amount
they would have contributed if
■ Employees must apply
for reemployment within a
specified time after their
return. This time varies
depending upon length of
service. But this time limit
could extend to two years or
more when an employee suffers a service-related injury.
■ Returning veterans must
be “promptly reemployed”
after submitting their application. They must be reinstated
to their former position or a
position of like seniority, status, benefits and rate of pay
for which they are qualified.
■ If veterans return with
physical and/or mental health
issues, companies must make
“reasonable accommodations” so they can return to
work. These may vary according to each situation, but they
could include adjusting job
tasks, moving employees to
different positions and offering them training.
The ESGR Web site (www.
esgr.mil) offers a helpful frequently asked questions section for employers and a link to