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PSU study to help veterans reintegrate into the workplace
Author: John Kirkland, University Communications
Posted: March 13, 2013

Portland State University is launching a five-year project to study and implement workplace training for supervisors of returning veterans.  It is the first research project of its kind in the United States to implement supervisor training as part of addressing the particular needs of reintegrating veterans, with the ultimate goal of improving the workplace and keeping veterans employed.

The study, which will take place completely within Oregon, is funded by a $5 million grant awarded in February by the U.S. Department of Defense. It will be headed by Dr. Leslie Hammer, a PSU professor of psychology and an expert in occupational psychology and work and family issues.  Hammer and her research team, which includes collaborators from the Portland VA Medical Center and Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU), will focus mainly on returning Oregon National Guard and Reserve Component veterans.

While the Obama Administration has implemented incentive programs for businesses to hire returning veterans, Hammer says little has been done to retain those employees once they’ve been hired or once they return to their old jobs after coming back from active duty.

“Returning veterans often have deployment-related health conditions, including physical injuries and heightened levels of stress and anxiety due to their war experiences. If I can train supervisors about what those veterans are dealing with and the types of resources that are available, it will help ease the transition back into the workplace,” Hammer said. She added that veterans have higher rates of suicide and divorce than the population at large, in part because of the difficulties of transitioning to a “normal” life at home.

More than 2.2 million service members have been deployed in and around Afghanistan or Iraq since 9/11. At least a third or more are the “citizen soldiers” of the National Guard and Reserves. Hammer said the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force offers support systems for active duty soldiers returning home, but formal supports are more limited for veterans of the National Guard and Reserves.

The researchers will train workplace supervisors in ways to accommodate veterans, including being sensitive to their wartime experiences and domestic lives, decreasing the stress level of the job, and making schedules more flexible. They will measure the effectiveness of the training on veterans’ wellbeing over time.

They also will conduct a daily diary study with veterans and their spouses or partners to get a deeper sense of the day-to-day issues faced by veteran families.

“Given the sacrifices these veterans and their families have made, society has a responsibility to assist with their transitions to civilian lives,” Hammer said.

Hammer is the director of PSU’s Center for Work-Family Stress, Safety and Health (www.pdx.edu/work-family-support), which examines innovative workplace practices that can ultimately improve the health and wellbeing of employees and their families. She is also the associate director of the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, focused on the study of workplace intervention effectiveness (www.ohsu.edu/ohwc).

About 1,000 veterans are enrolled at PSU – more than any other university in Oregon.