Correction:

Ane earlier version of this story misstated the name of Lt. Caroline Hutcheson. It has been corrected.

Navy Yard employees dealing with emotional trauma as they return to work

Graphic: Read eyewitness accounts from the Navy Yard shooting.

The Washington Navy Yard has cleared most of its roughly 16,000 workers to return to their jobs Thursday, but many are dealing with fresh emotional trauma as they prepare to revisit the places they fled in fear during Monday’s shooting rampage that left 12 people and the guman dead and scores more injured.

The Navy ramped up this week to help the affected civilian and military personnel, deploying dozens of counselors — including psychologists, chaplains, hospital corpsmen and federal social workers — and establishing emergency family-assistance centers that provide call-center and in-person support.

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“We will come together as a family to deal with this,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said in a video Monday.

Experts say returning to work is bound to make many employees anxious, if they’re not already feeling the effects of post-
traumatic stress.

Col. Katherine Platoni, an Army psychologist, has firsthand experience with such difficulties. She went through similar trauma during the 2009 Fort Hood shooting in Texas that left 13 dead, including a colleague who bled to death in front of her.

“There is a tremendous loss of emotional control, because the safe place they might have thought their world to be has been shattered,” Platoni said. “There’s tremendous grief over massive losses, survivor guilt, depression. Anger is going to be a huge issue for many people.”

The list goes on: frustration that a gunman gained access to the base, trouble with concentration, loss of sleep, flashbacks.

“It does improve over time, but there are triggers,” Platoni said, noting that her hands began to shake as she watched Monday’s news reports. “When something like this terrible massacre occurs, it takes you right back.”

In the case of Fort Hood, Platoni said the Army “spared no expense in bringing in teams of the most gifted mental-health professionals from all over the country.” She added that they were available to base personnel for about 10 days.

Platoni’s advice for workers: Talk to one another. She keeps in touch with other witnesses from Fort Hood. “The support from one another is probably the best medicine available,” she said.

People who didn’t witness the shootings may have an easier time dealing with the return to work. Brendan Kittredge, who was spared Monday’s violence because he altered his routine of eating breakfast in the ground-floor cafeteria where the shooter trained much of his gunfire, said he feels safe returning to work.

“I don’t think the Navy Yard is any less safe than other places,” he said. “If anything, it’s more safe. It just goes to show that this type of thing can happen anywhere.”

Lt. Caroline Hutcheson, a Navy spokeswoman, said the family-assistance centers, at the Navy Yard and at Joint Base Anacostia-
Bolling, will serve as one-stop shops where personnel can receive help with anything from post-traumatic stress to figuring out how to retrieve their vehicles.

Access to Building 197, where the shooting occurred, will be restricted until the FBI completes its investigation of the scene, potentially this weekend, Hutcheson said.

Services from the family-
assistance center will remain in place until the Navy determines that the needs of all affected personnel are met, Hutcheson said. Nearly 600 Navy Yard employees have already reached out for help, she said.

In addition to the family-
assistance centers, the Defense Department’s Military OneSource provides a host of resources for personnel, including counseling services online, via telephone and in person.

The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund announced Tuesday that it is prepared to help the families of fallen civilian employees despite recent financial challenges for the charity group, which provides no-interest loans to federal workers in need. The organization said in August that it was running out of money, in part because loan requests have risen sharply this year as a result of unpaid furlough days.

 
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