Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Disabled vets face multiple challenges of employability and unseen disabilities

Carol Bertsch, a physical therapist
at Memphis Veterans Medical Center.

Newspapers are beginning to devote some significant space to the story of newly disabled war veterans. In a story in Memphis' Commercial Appeal, Carol Bertsch, physical therapist for the Memphis Veterans Medical Center (pictured above), explains that the worst wounds for veterans are those without scars.

"They manifest in headaches, fatigue, a dull ache, irritability, anger, frustration -- a feeling that organs shifted and won't go back to normal," the story says. "Those are found in the men and women who bounced and shook along rocky roads in Iraq, swerving in a serpentine hoping to dodge a sniper or miss an improvised explosive device. The ride jostles their innards, knocks their brains back and forth against their skull and their helmets. They look fine, tough, ready for battle, but many suffer muscle skeletal joint pain, a chronic ache that just doesn't leave."

In addition, the VA's inspector general's report released May 1 found that veterans with traumatic brain injury said they're not getting adequate health care and promised assistance with employment.

"Significant needs remain unmet," the report said. "Three years after initial inpatient rehabilitation, many of the patients continue to have significant disabilities. Long-term case management isn't uniformly provided."

Many of these veterans desperately want to work, but finding employment has become almost impossible, according to a package of stories in the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram.

"Ninety-nine percent of them want to do something," said Tamara Rodriguez-Uhrich, who works for the Army Wounded Warrior program in North Texas. "They want to find purpose in their lives. They're so young, so young. Our job is get them back to being contributing members of society."

One Star-Telegram story identified three major problems for disabled vets:
  • Most disabled veterans are young, with little to no post-high school education and few job skills that translate easily to the civilian world. Many of them have never put together a resume and never had a job interview.
  • Many employers are reluctant to hire someone with significant disabilities.
  • In many cases, the government's financial support of the veterans creates a disincentive to work.

Another Star-Telegram story explained another problem facing disabled vets -- they're bored being unemployed.

John Chrzanowski would like somewhere to go other than doctors' appointments and the feed store. The story says, "he's 24 years old and can't fathom the rest of his life spent in leisure.
But no one, not even defense contractors who profit from the war, has expressed interest in hiring him."

"There really isn't much out there for a 24-year-old grunt fresh out of the Army with no college education," he said.

"When severely disabled veterans get forced out of the military, as thousands have since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, they face the very sobering realization that they may have nothing more to look forward to than a government check for the rest of their lives," the story says.

According to a Labor Department report in April, 11.2 percent of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans between ages 18 and 24 were unemployed; 6.1 percent of all Iraq/Afghanistan veterans were unemployed; and 3.4 percent of disabled veterans from all eras were unemployed.