By Kelly Yamanouchi
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
At a recent weekly staff meeting, human resources manager Zetta Ferguson noticed that one of her employees wasn't sitting at the conference table.
She encouraged the employee who was sitting against the wall, Corey Michael McGee, to join the rest of the group at the table, but he declined. After the meeting, McGee explained: "I sit against the wall where I'm safest. Or in my mind I feel I'm safest."
An Army veteran who was struck by an improvised explosive device and gunfire in Fallujah, Iraq, McGee says post-traumatic stress disorder and some remaining effects of his injuries affect him in some ways in the workplace, but "it's gotten a lot better over the years."
Many employers have not delved deeply into how they might address PTSD, a relatively new issue, but they could face it more frequently as more veterans return to the workforce.
About 2.4 million members of the military have been deployed in the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands are returning home. The influx is expected to continue until 2016.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates as many as 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of Iraqi war veterans are afflicted by PTSD, which can generate both sympathy and fear.
Employees with the disorder may face problems arising from anxiety or have limited ability to perform certain tasks. At the same time, some employers may overreact, and veterans often don't want employers or co-workers to assume they have a condition resulting from combat.
Ferguson, an HR manager at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Decatur, Ga., is experiencing the challenges firsthand. It sometimes takes creativity to address McGee's needs while capitalizing on his strengths and maintaining his privacy, she said. She decided, for example, to invite employees to sit wherever they wanted to avoid singling McGee out.
"Nobody wants to feel like they don't fit in," said Ferguson, who is a veteran herself.
PTSD can often rise to the level of a disability protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which calls for employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees to do their jobs, said Jennifer Sandberg, a partner at labor and employment law firm Fisher & Phillips. Administrative charges of PTSD discrimination filed under the ADA totaled 593 in fiscal year 2011, and have increased every year since 2006, according to data from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Some who suffer PTSD have problems with memory, concentration, organization or sleep - all of which can affect their work, according to a Department of Labor website for employers.
PTSD affects about 7.7 million adults, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.