By: MICHELLE ROBERTS
11/17/09 4:30 PM EST
SAN ANTONIO — Richard Martin keeps a rearview mirror on his desk to prevent co-workers from startling him in his cubicle. The walls are papered with sticky notes to help him remember things, and he wears noise-canceling headphones to keep his easily distracted mind focused. Martin, an Army veteran who was nearly blown up on three occasions in Iraq, once feared that post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury would keep him from holding down a civilian job, despite years of corporate experience and an MBA. “Here I am with this background and I’m having problems with my memory,” said Martin, a 48-year-old engineer and former National Guard major who now works for Northrop Grumman, helping to devise ways to thwart remote-detonated bombs. The defense contractor recruited him through its hiring program for severely wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The company consulted occupational nurses on how to help him do his job without becoming overly nervous when someone, say, drops a heavy object. Martin figured out other tricks, like the headphones, on his own. But Martin is one of the lucky ones. Army officials say many new veterans suffering from PTSD and brain injuries struggle to find and keep a civilian job. Advocates say many employers don’t know how to accommodate veterans with these “invisible wounds” and worry that they cannot do the job and might even “go postal” someday. “There is a stigma attached to the invisible wounds, and it’s largely borne out of ignorance,” said David Autry, a spokesman for Disabled American Veterans. “There’s a fear that somebody will go off the deep end.” The Army’s Wounded Warrior Program, which helps veterans adjust to civilian life, has been reaching out to employers to educate them and encourage them to hire former soldiers with invisible wounds. It conducts briefings to brace potential employers for soldiers who might not be able to work regular hours or might startle too easily, suffer outbursts or require time off for counseling. About 90 severely wounded veterans have found work with the help of the Wounded Warrior Program since it began offering job assistance last year, though the Army does not break that down by injury type.