WORKING WITH PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects approximately 30% of the men and women who have spent time in a war zone. So, as prevalent as PTSD is, does an employee with PTSD have to disclose it to an employer? No.

Employees only need to disclose their disability when and if they need an accommodation to perform the job. It is not necessary to disclose a disability on a job application. Nor is it necessary to disclose during an interview unless you need an accommodation to complete the application or the interview process.

If the employer thinks the employee might have PTSD, s/he can ask that individual to have a medical exam (a “fitness-for-duty” exam) after an incident has occurred on the job that leads the employer to think the employee has PTSD. An employer can also ask for testing if there is a reason s/he believes the employee is unable to do the work, or if accommodations are needed to do the job.

It is illegal for an employer to ask for a medical exam or inquire about PTSD prior to making the offer of employment. If you have PTSD (or any disability), you do not need to submit to a medical exam or answer questions about your disability until after you conditionally offered a job.

If you have PTSD and require an accommodation, you may ask for one at any time you need it to perform the essential functions of the job. You can make the request verbally or in writing, but you are responsible for providing the proof of your disability too.

For more information about Employees with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, go to the Job Accommodation Network at jan@askjan.org.

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DEAFNESS RELATED TO MILITARY SERVICE

I was thinking last night about how many situations arise where men and women in the military are exposed to excessive noise for extended periods of time. I really was surprised that I hadn’t thought of it before, so many of the veterans I work with have some level of hearing impairment. But how can veterans know if their deafness was caused by military related experiences or are just the normal effects of aging?

I went on line to research the topic and found that the government has recently completed a study on the effects of hearing loss from military-related exposure. What the study showed was that hearing impairment can be greatly influenced by time spent in the military. That makes sense; gunfire, plane launches and landings, tank operations, shipboard deployments and many more causes have a negative effect on hearing. Studies are difficult because the duration of exposure can vary as well as the causes of exposure. A typical soldier may be required to ride in a cargo truck, fire a weapon repeatedly, be exposed to explosions and excessive engine noises all in a relatively short period of time. But that exposure may happen again and again on subsequent days for months on end.

Determining how much of the hearing loss in an individual is the result of military exposure or a natural decline related to aging is almost impossible. However, the assumption that certainly some of it is service-related has to be accepted. After many years of refusing to help with treating hearing loss, the VA has stepped up and is doing a better job of covering the cost of hearing aids. It’s about time.

GOOD GRIEF!

Losing someone you love is always difficult, but when the death is from war, it can be even harder to deal with. War causalities are usually violent and often sudden. Although there are usual stages one goes through when grieving, bereavement is compounded by the intensity of feelings surrounding the loss of a loved one in battle.

Common reactions to grief include denial, anger, bargaining, anger, and finally acceptance. What many people don’t know is that you can go through these stages again and again when the grief is complicated and you may experience them for much longer periods of time than someone who has an expected loss.

In addition to the stages of grief, many people report physical symptoms too including stomach pain, headaches, sleep disturbances, and depression to name a few. Your energy level can drop and you may find it difficult to think straight and that your ability to recall things is greatly hampered. Grief can be a real pain…but it’s also something that is a necessary part of coping with your loss.

Grief is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Your body and mind must adjust to the changes that you are experiencing due to your loss. Your role may change. You may have gone from spouse to single parent, or to head of household. Your responsibilities may increase, especially if you are now a single parent. Realize that your life will change, that adjustments will have to be made, and that those changes will likely cause you some anxiety.

But also be aware that there will come an end to the time of grieving. Will you ever stop missing the friend or partner you’ve lost? No. Nor will you forget. But you will learn to define life anew and to form new supports and ways of coping that will get you through. Some ways of helping the grieving process along include:
• Take care of yourself! This is not the time to put off that annual checkup just because you’re too tired to go. You need to eat properly, monitor your drinking and drug use so it doesn’t turn into abuse, and get enough rest and exercise.
• Depend on your friends and family for support. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from them if you need it. Talk about how you feel – you need to experience those feelings in order for healing to come.
• Be patient with yourself. Try not to dwell on the negative, but accept that it’s going to take some time to get through this.
• Seek professional help when you need it. Grief counselors specialize in helping you learn to express and cope with your grief.

Grieving is hard work. There is no way around it. But, there is another side and you will get there…one step at a time.

The Energy to Heal

One of the side effects of PTSD and depression is an inability to make the changes necessary to heal. When you’re depressed, you suffer from low energy; it’s hard to even find the energy to think. Unfortunately, getting better often requires taking action in spite of wanting to maintain status quo. PTSD is often the same – where you may feel that in your present circumstances you are emotionally paralyzed, finding the energy to make a change is a necessity.

Healing requires change. You will likely have to challenge the thoughts, actions and beliefs that are holding you hostage. But, the good news is that it’s worth the effort. The goal is to get through and begin learning new habits, better ways of coping and dealing with stress. Exercise can help; so can meditation. Developing your spirituality can be a path to healing too. The thing is, just don’t sit there. If where you are is bad, then staying there won’t make you feel better! It doesn’t require that you change everything in your life immediately. Make one change today: take a walk. Walking gets endorphins going and that makes you feel better. Or, try going for a swim, riding a bike, jogging in place. Whatever your preferred form of exercise is, take 10 minutes today to indulge in it. Increase it to 15 minutes next week. Go from there.

Meditation is more difficult if you’re not already verse in it. I’ve tried “learning” to meditate and have found it’s not something you can just force yourself to do! But, trained masters can help and there are a lot of them out there. Find one if that’s your thing.

Read spiritual material. If you aren’t not comfortable going to church (as many veteran aren’t comfortable in crowds), turn on the TV on Sunday morning. You’ll find a channel with church services on. If that’s not your thing, read. It doesn’t have to be religious materials. Just read something wholesome and relaxing. That means a Steven King novel is probably not on the list! Save that for another time. Read something that soothes your soul; something that makes you feel good. If you can’t feel good, read something that captures your interest without adding stress to your life.

The thing is you have to work at getting better. The good thing is, it’s worth it!