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 III and author of the study.
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Those programs have largely disappeared, and been replaced by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).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