February 16, 2006

Employers unprepared for wounded vets’ return

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Most employers are "unprepared" for
the return of wounded veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq and will have difficulty meeting their needs, according to
a study released on Wednesday by the Insurance Information
Institute (III).

At least 16,600 U.S. soldiers have been wounded, and many
more of the 2 million who may serve in those arenas before the
conflicts end could be traumatized, according to Robert
Hartwig, chief economist for the institute and author of the

Nearly a third of those troops are reservists and National
Guard, who will be going back to their previous jobs. Hartwig
said his survey shows that most employers don't understand
their needs or the special benefits they're entitled to.

"These soldiers put their lives on the line and deserve the
utmost respect," said Hartwig. "But even big companies haven't
thought about their obligations to these people."

Veterans are entitled to lifelong benefits, including
mental health benefits. In addition, there are worker
compensation issues for those wounded in battle or accidents,
or have been traumatized by being in a war zone.

"There's evidence that many soldiers will exhibit mental
stress from their experience, and it's important for employers
to monitor them, particularly if they're operating heavy
machinery or driving," said Hartwig.

After World War II and other conflicts, veterans faced
discrimination when they returned home. In some cases, "Second
Injury Funds" were set up to meet the needs of wounded soldiers
whose injuries were aggravated by their stateside jobs.

Those programs have largely disappeared, and been replaced
by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). That law
prohibits discrimination against anyone with a disability.

Employers should be aware that failure to comply with the
ADA can result in stiff fines, Hartwig said. Since 1992 the
federal government has awarded more than a half-billion dollars
to people who have been discriminated against in violation of
the ADA.