War Veterans Find Transition Back to Workplace a Challenge
PHOENIX– For many of the 3,000-plus Arizona National Guard and military reserve members returning home after a tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, adjusting from the battlefield to the workplace is a struggle.
The military members describe spending months on alert every second of the day, dodging death in surprise firefights and watching members of their units and civilians die.
When they come back to Arizona, they are in a hypervigilant state, unable to convey their emotions to family, friends and co-workers.
Some say they repeatedly relive battles, cannot sleep or are easily startled. Others find their jobs boring or worry that a supervisor will not work with them if they are diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder…
Data on how many are suffering are not kept, but one study published in March in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that 25 percent of veterans who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan received a mental health diagnosis.
"In general, there's a dramatic need for more post-service care and attention to the needs of these individuals," said Scott Essex, chairman of the Arizona committee of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a liaison between veterans and employers.
Charles Thomas, who returned to Phoenix's Water Services Department in April 2006 after serving a year in Iraq, said he transformed from a gregarious and outgoing man to a quiet one when he got home.
He was abrupt with co-workers, nervous around crowds and looked exhausted.
"I thought I looked fine," Thomas said. "Other people looking at me saw the difference."
After five months of anxiety and depression, Thomas got help at Veterans Affairs
Will Holton, a Phoenix police officer who returned from Iraq in April 2006, said when he went back to work, he got into confrontations with his co-workers.
"When you come back here, you see people complaining about (daily life)," he said. "You just shake your head and say, 'You guys don't have a complaint at all.'"
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