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Program Helps Injured Employees Return to Work

By Kim Sears
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 20, 2007 – A new Defense Department program is helping civilian employees injured in job-related accidents and illnesses return to work.

The Pipeline Program, established by the Defense Safety Oversight Council and managed by the department's Civilian Personnel Management Service, has allowed more than 400 injured employees to return to work at more than 60 installations.

The Pipeline Program addresses two issues that had hindered re-employment efforts: the ability to create additional positions for recovering workers and the funding to pay for them. DoD components now can use the program to create additional positions for recovering workers, even if they exceed the number of employees a component is permitted to hire. Components are granted the position and the salary and benefits to cover that position for up to one year with the obligation they will integrate the employee into their regular work force within that time.

Susan Atwood, Pipeline re-employment program manager for the Civilian Personnel Management Service, said the arrangement helps mitigate the impact large numbers of recovering workers have on an agency's budget by eliminating associated training costs for new employees.

"Injured employees returned to productive duties help reduce training, overtime and replacement expenses, while also making valuable contributions to the overall DoD mission," Atwood said. "Pipeline gets to the heart of resource allocation and funding by removing these historical barriers, and even more importantly, puts recovering employees back to productive duty as soon as they are medically able."

Harriet Cronin, DoD liaison for injury compensation for the New York and Boston region, said Pipeline has become integral to a recovering employee's emotional and psychological well-being.

"Once an injured employee is brought back to work and is involved in something outside the home, their ailments become less pronounced, and their self-esteem increases," Cronin said. "The Pipeline Program has been a tremendous success in contributing to a recovering employee's productivity and self-worth."

The program also supports the President's Safety, Health, and Return-to-Employment initiative, known as SHARE, by assisting each DoD installation in reducing lost days resulting from injuries. SHARE is a safe workplace initiative that aims to reduce workplace injury and illness rates and encourage timely reporting of injury and illness cases.

"The Pipeline Program has been tremendously successful in helping supervisors, commanders, and program managers remove the budget and manpower restrictions they once had, and which contribute to longer periods of disability for injured workers," said Patt Scanlon, chief of the Injury and Unemployment Compensation Division at the Civilian Personnel Management Service. "In addition to keeping re-employment costs low for installations, the program helps maintain self-esteem, self-worth and identity. Pipeline strives to enable recovering employees to take charge of their lives and careers and to once again become independent productive citizens.”

Since the program's implementation, overall government injury-compensation costs have increased by about 9 percent, while such costs within the Defense Department have increased by less than 1 percent.

Eligibility for Pipeline funding is open to any DoD component and civilian employee with an accepted workers' compensation claim, officials said.

(Kim Sears works for the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)

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