“I feel so sad every time I look at myself in the mirror. I look perfectly competent … and I am not. That’s why I don’t like to look at myself in the mirror. I just wish I could continue serving my country … but I can’t,” says Spc. Claudia Carreon.
For some people, like Spc. Carreon, returning to work after a traumatic brain injury can be difficult or impossible. But a good many people with TBI do return to their old careers — or to new ones that bring fulfillment and a sense of self-worth.
Obstacles, often referred to in context with TBI as environmental barriers, can make returning to work difficult — from stairs and long corridors to lack of transportation or the attitudes of other people. Existing laws can help overcome some of those barriers.
The Americans with Disability Act, which was passed in Congress in 1990, states that if a person has a condition that meets the definition of a disability — and this can include a brain injury — an employer is required to provide the individual with reasonable accommodations to perform his or her job. People who return to work after a brain injury should educate themselves and their employers about their needs — and their rights. Some common issues that face individuals with TBI who are returning to work include:
The more employers understand their employees’ physical or cognitive issues after brain injury, the more they can help. If necessary, a job coach, usually supplied by an outside agency, can provide specialized on-site training to employees with disabilities. Typically, a job coach will help an employee learn to perform his job accurately, efficiently, and safely. He will also be able to identify additional accommodations an employer may be able to make for his employees’ special needs.
Job loss or change for the caregiver
Job loss or change can also apply to a caregiver or family member. When a loved one is being treated for a TBI, a family member will almost certainly need to take time off from work to help in that loved one’s care. The Family & Medical Leave Act — or FMLA — is a national law that permits employees to take leaves of absence to assist immediate family members. Learning about laws like FMLA and workplace rights as a caregiver is crucial.
Trying something new
For people like Spc. Carreon, losing your career after a brain injury can seem like yet another loss of self. But usually with time comes change and acceptance, and sometimes people discover new careers or another side to themselves.